Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kansas Republicans flunk high school civics

We live in quite a political zoo these days. The controversies are coming so fast and furious that our leaders seem to have forgotten their most basic lessons from high school civics. Perhaps I can be of some help, but first a bit of background…

In Washington D.C., we’ve got a president who believes he’s king. Good ole’ George W. Bush thinks he doesn’t have to follow the law, the U.S. Constitution or the most basic rules of human decency. (Think: torture, kidnapping, jailing unendingly without trial).

In Topeka, Kan., we’ve got a bunch of Republican legislators who are shocked and outraged that the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court actually have the gall to think they have any power.

To that end, these fine legislators are attacking one of the most basic principles of our form of government -- the idea that the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government “check and balance” each other.

The Topeka Capital Journal reports that on Tuesday The Select Committee on School Finance passed and sent to the full House an amendment to the Kansas Constitution. It seems that the committee’s majority thinks the Kansas Supreme Court shouldn’t have the right to declare legislative actions involving money to be unconstitutional. Last year, the same proposal passed the Senate, but failed in the House.

At issue is last year’s Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature failed its constitutionally mandated duty to provide an equal education to all students in the state – not just to those in rich districts. That ruling led lawmakers to add $290 million to school spending last year. They are hard at work at pumping more money into the education system this year.

Republicans -- who control both branches of the Kansas Legislature -- were furious that anyone would force them to take care of the state’s school children. How completely unfair! Almost immediately after the court decision, Republicans began calling for the Kansas Constitution to be amended so that darn Supreme Court would stop calling on lawmakers to do their constitutional duties.

“It is up to us to reassert our rights," committee member Rep. Mike O'Neal. R-Hutchinson, told the Capital-Journal.

I did a little research on the web and found some information that I thought might help O’Neal, who is amazingly an attorney. It turns out that there are some nice online notes for an 11th grade American History curriculum that could help him out. Under the category of “Checks and Balances” these notes comment that:

Our founding fathers had several goals, foremost among those goals was to avoid tyranny. In order to do this several different systems were set up to prevent the abuse of power.

[One of those systems was called] checks and balances, or the separation of powers … In this system the government was to be divided into three branches of government, each branch having particular powers.
The notes go one to explain that each branch has the power to swat the other branch. Hence, the governor (or president) can veto a bill and the Legislature (or Congress) can override that veto if enough votes can be mustered. The Supreme Court can declare a legislative action unconstitutional, but Supreme Court justices (on both the state and federal level) can be impeached and thrown out of office.

In other words, if the Kansas Legislature believes that what the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court did was so vile, cruel and heartless, not to mention unconstitutional then lawmakers have a remedy at hand: They can impeach the justices, send them to trial before the Kansas Senate and toss them out of their nice, cushy judicial jobs.

Interesting, isn’t it, that no one has even suggested that?

Did I mention that the Supreme Court decision was unanimous?

The Capital-Journal reports:
Jim Clark, legislative counsel with the Kansas Bar Association, said the association's executive council opposed the amendment.

"We are considering changing a time-worn provision of our constitution in reaction to one particular decision," he said. "It would be a time for restraint rather than action."
That’s an understatement.

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