Kansas Judiciary Gets National Criticism
Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network
The school finance litigation began in the 1980’s in Kansas and has continued and expanded in the 21st Century. The first lawsuit was tragic, but now Kansas is becoming a judicial joke, albeit a very expensive demonstration of judicial activism and contempt for the democratic principles that are the foundation for not only this state, but for this republic.
Kansas is now getting negative national attention created by the judicial activism coming from the Kansas Supreme Court. Kansas is not alone in judicial activism but the attention focused upon the Sunflower state by the Wall Street Journal April 8, 2006 is a national recognition of a fundamental problem facing Kansas. The negative judicial impact is already hurting Kansas firms as business costs and risks grow. Any out-of-state firm looking to relocate into this region won’t come anywhere near us.
Here, the judges are setting budgets and legislatures have been relegated to an elected advisory board. Litigious school district lawyers publicly whine about “inadequate school funding” despite an increase of over $650 per pupil last year alone. Governor Sebelius and her liberal legislative allies in both parties want this spending to be doubled again to a total of roughly $2,000 more per pupil per year. That would be an additional $40,000 per twenty student classroom in Kansas if the legislature approves this spending when they return to Topeka April 26.
When this gubernatorial backed spending spree was approved in the Kansas house all 42 Democrats joined 22 liberal Republicans led by Garden City lawyer, Representative Ward Loyd in narrowly passing this bill on a 64-to-61 vote in March. In a spasm of caution, the senate deadlocked and passed nothing so far this year.
Now New York Law School professors Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod bluntly stated in the Wall Street Journal, ” …courts have no power to force a state legislature to appropriate money.” Most people assume that the legislature must cough up the cash because courts have the power of contempt, which allows them to punish those who disobey their orders. In the school case, however, the courts can’t punish anyone. State legislators are not defendants in this case, and even if they were, they can’t be pushed because they are immune from suit. The state’s treasury is immune because the court lacks authority to appropriate more funds and can’t fine the state for the legislature’s unwillingness to do so.
These professors go on to warn that courts have tried to close schools until the legislature responded to the court’s demands. In some cases the threat succeeds. They said, “…when the Kansas court raised the question of whether it should close the schools, the threat was enough to pry more money from the legislature.” This leads to an outrageous situation, “When courts claim that they have power to make legislatures spend more to vindicate a constitutional right to basic education, they tamper with a basic tenet of our democracy — no taxation without representation.”
The judicial activists among Kansas lawyers, the Kansas Bar, the judicial nominating and “ethics” committees meeting behind closed doors, and the Kansas judges from the liberal Terry Bullock to the Democrat dominated, activist Kansas Supreme Court control the interpretation of Kansas state law. Democratic principles are no match for Democrat and liberal judges. What the judges cannot control are the consequences from this usurpation of elected officialsâ€™ power by this ascendant judicial oligarchy.
The Wall Street Journalâ€™s editorial clearly indicates that businesses are entering a risky legal environment once they step into Kansas. The word is out. Other recent Alice in Wonderland rulings, like the Kansas Supreme Courtâ€™s eminent domain edict, add to the problems and risks of conducting business in this state. As the court grabs spending power and weakens property rights this state is being economically as well as politically damaged by judicial activism.
The bizarre nature of the Kansas school finance case is increased by several facts. First, the legislature was never even a defendant in the school finance lawsuit, the state school board was. The Kansas Supreme Court denied the legislatorsâ€™ right to appear before the court because of this fact, but then the appointed judges on this court turned around and issued a ruling against the elected legislators.
Second, the other states pursuing these public school spending cases refuse to manufacture some specious dollar amount to be constitutionally authorized like Kansas. The Texas Supreme Court specifically rejected this claim. In New York, their highest court said in its March, 2006 ruling that it had, â€œneither the authority, nor the ability, nor the will, to micromanage education financing.â€
Dissenting judges in this case warned that the New York school finance lawsuit will create endless litigation and perpetual legal second-guessing by their courts. That description of the legal environment sounds like Kansas beginning with Judge Bullockâ€™s infamous Mock decision in 1992.
Who supported this school finance lawsuit in New York? Besides the usual school spending lobbies there were the two â€œexpertâ€ professors from New York whose work is the foundation for the Kansas Legislative Post Audit report issued last January. These are Syracuse University professors and left wing school spending advocates William Duncombe and John Yinger.
There are many lessons for the Kansas citizens paying these tax bills to fund this legal circus. Taxpayers are funding both sides of this expensive, multi-million dollar lawsuit. Kansas ranks low in the percentage of tax dollars that gets into classrooms, but there is unlimited tax funds for lawsuits, statehouse school district lobbyists, raising top administratorsâ€™ salaries, and despite all the spending there are lax fiscal controls. Lax controls have created several recent public school financial scandals that included, in one case, shipping over $500,000 in school district tax funds to a bunch of crooks in Kazakstan. This financial scandal indicates that money is the excuse, not the problem, for Kansas public schools.