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Does Gov. Sam Brownback Want to Replace Kansas Judges?

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By Peter Clarke, JD on June 04, 2015 3:57 PM

The separation of powers is good for everyone -- unless you're a state governor with a political agenda you want to implement quickly. Then you might find the judiciary, for instance, to be a bit of a nuisance.

Gov. Sam Brownback wouldn't be the first governor to confront this issue, but he may be one of the first to tackle the issue by attempting to replace Kansas judges. At least, that's how Brownback's critics interpret his latest proposals concerning constitutional amendments.

Proposals for Replacing Kansas Justices

Gov. Sam Brownback has implemented widespread tax cuts; although welcomed by conservatives in the state, these cuts have reportedly created a drain on the education budget. When a number of school districts sued the state, the Kansas courts found that funding wasn't equitable between students of varying economic backgrounds, and also that spending on education was inadequate.

This challenge to Gov. Brownback's tax-cutting agenda was quickly followed by his creative proposals for replacing judges in the state. Whether or not these events are linked is a matter of speculation, but it certainly makes a good case for carefully examining his proposals.

According to MotherJones.com, Brownback's proposals include:

1) Lowering the retirement age for judges
2) Splitting the court into civil and criminal
3) Expanding the grounds for impeachment

Any of these three options could open up spots in the courts, which Brownback would presumably be happy to fill. But how can Brownback fill judicial spots?

Proposed Amendments to Kansas' Constitution

Although Gov. Brownback may not currently have much direct sway in terms of filling judicial spots, he has recently proposed two possible ways for changing the way justices are selected in Kansas. These proposals, which would involve changing Kansas' Constitution, include:

  • Enabling the executive branch to make appointments for the senate to confirm.
  • Allowing for direct elections.

Either one of these options would presumably make it easier for Brownback to achieve a more conservative judiciary in his state. Although the accusations against Brownback are speculative, they do highlight the potential loopholes that might be used to undermine the separation of powers either under this governor, or future ones.

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