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Bill Would Allow Impeachment Of Kansas Justices For ‘Attempting To Usurp’ Other Branches’ Powers

Kansas conservatives want a new weapon to use against what they consider an “activist” state Supreme Court: impeachment. 

Kansas Supreme Court justices have to stand for retention election every six years, but kicking one off the court between elections – impeaching them – is hard.  A justice has to commit a serious crime, like treason, bribery or “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” to be impeached.

Now some conservative state senators want to broaden the list, making, for instance, discourteous conduct toward litigants, jurors or witnesses an impeachable offense. More significantly, they’ve proposed a new impeachable transgression: “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.”

That’s exactly what Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative allies say the court does all the time, most recently this week when the court threw out the state school funding formula – again. 

Under Senate Bill 439, justices could, in theory, get impeached for that.

“This is very much about the consolidation of power,” says Fort Hays State political science professor Chapman Rackaway. “What’s going on here is a continuation of a multi-year fight over the governor’s power and the judiciary,” he says.

Rackaway says those efforts haven’t been altogether successful.  A measure giving the governor authority to select Supreme Court justices failed in the House last week.  A bill similar to SB 439 died last year.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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