Kansas Supreme Court: Making law, part 2

Do the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court make new law? Yes, and here is an example.

A paper by Kansas University School of Law Professor Stephen J. Ware explains the problem with the undemocratic method of judicial selection process used in Kansas.1

The question is whether judges are simply arbitrators of the law, or do they actually participate in the lawmaking process? In his paper, Ware presents eleven examples of judges on the two highest Kansas courts engaging in lawmaking. Here, Ware explains one example:2

Does the state have a legal duty to control the conduct of parolees to prevent harm to other persons or property? When the Kansas Supreme Court confronted this question in Schmidt v. HTG, Inc., it noted a split of authority in other states. For example, a Washington court held that, yes, “a parole officer takes charge of the parolees he or she supervises despite the lack of a custodial or continuous relationship” and this had the effect of imposing liability on the state. However, the Kansas Supreme Court “reject[ed]” this rule and said “The better-reasoned and more logical approach is that taken in [a Virginia case] which held that state parole officers did not take charge” of a parolee in the relevant sense.

So Kansas law on this topic … was made, not by the legislative or executive branches, but by the judges on the Kansas Supreme Court. In Schmidt, … the lawmaking judges did not pretend that they were compelled by the legislature or anyone else to choose one possible legal rule over another possible legal rule. Instead, the judges decided which view was “better-reasoned” and then made that view the law. (emphasis added)

For more on this topic, see As lawmakers, Kansas judges should be selected democratically: While many believe that judges should not “legislate from the bench,” the reality is that lawmaking is a judicial function. In a democracy, lawmakers should be elected under the principle of “one person, one vote.” But Kansas, which uses the Missouri Plan for judicial selection to its highest court, violates this principle.


Notes

  1. Ware, Stephen J. Originalism, Balanced Legal Realism and Judicial Selection: A Case Study. Available at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2129265.
  2. Id. at 31.

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