Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill on Thursday that threatened to defund the state’s judiciary if it rules against him.
The measure, added to the end of a bill that allocated funding for the judiciary, states that if a court rules against a 2014 law that took the authority to appoint chief judges for the district courts away from the State Supreme Court, Brownback would pull the judiciary’s funding.
The 2014 law gave the power to appoint judges to the district courts themselves, instead of the State Supreme Court. The bill was criticized by many, who accused Brownback of attempting to fill the courts with judges who might favor his policies.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Matthew Menendez, counsel at New York’s Brennan Center for Justice, said. “It seems pretty clear that these mechanisms have been an effort by the governor and the Legislature to try and get a court system that is more in line with their philosophy.”
University of Kansas constitutional law professor Richard Levy told the New York Times in an interview that the bill was the same as Congress “passing a law outlawing abortion and then telling the judicial branch that it will lose its funding if it finds the law unconstitutional."
“That kind of threat to the independence of the judiciary strikes me as invalid under the separation of powers principle,” Levy added.
This isn't the first time Kansas legislators and the courts have been at odds in the past few years, the New York Times reports. Tension between the two branches of government began when the State Supreme Court ruled that the underfunding of schools was unconstitutional. Legislators challenged the ruling, claiming the ruling was an overreach because the Legislature had the authority to appropriate money.
Brownback has also "threatened the justices with blatantly political reforms, like subjecting them to recall elections, splitting the court in two, lowering the retirement age, and introducing partisan elections" in addition to threatening to defund, according to Slate.
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