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Campaign Donations in Judicial Retention Campaigns 'Exist in a Dark Zone'

As five Kansas Supreme Court justices face retention elections this fall, donations to groups involved in the retentions are not subject to the same disclosure requirements as in other types of elections, The Topeka Capital-Journal's Jonathan Shorman reports. As a result, it is nearly impossible to know who is fundraising the most.

The Kansas Supreme Court has been the center of political fights in that state. Two years ago, conservative legislators tried to change how the justices are selected and more than 50 bills have been introduced since 2013 "that in some way sought to penalize the courts or strip their funds."

Courts Become Top Targets in 2016 Elections

The judicial branch of government has become a flashpoint for political disagreement for the 2016 elections, whether it is federal judicial appointments or elections to state courts, The Kansas City Star's Dave Helling writes.

Legal experts say "politicians have started turning virtually every race into a referendum on the courts, threatening public confidence in an independent, apolitical judiciary." For example, Helling reports about how there is a multimillion campaign over the fates of five Kansas Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of school finance and how there are proposals in Arizona and Washington to change the sizes of both courts in order to exert control over those jurists.

Judicial Nominating Commission Now Subject to Open Records Law

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill making the state's nominating commission for Supreme Court justices subject to open records and open meetings laws, the Wichita Eagle's Bryan Lowry reports.

The bill also requires the governor to disclose the names of applicants for the intermediate appellate court, the Kansas Court of Appeals, and will require the clerk of the Kansas Supreme Court to submit a list of lawyers eligible to vote to the Secretary of State before elections.

Kansas Supreme Court Under Attack By Conservatives

The Kansas Supreme Court is under attack by conservatives, including Governor Sam Brownback, for its rulings overturning death penalty verdicts, blocking anti-abortion laws, and ruling in favor of public-school funding, The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports.

Those efforts include: A bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate to authorize the impeachment of justices if the court's opinions allegedly usurp the power of the executive and legislative branches. Conservatives also hope to unseat four justices this fall during retention elections. The governor also is pushing for an amendment "that would give the governor more control over choosing new justices, who are now winnowed through a merit system."

Kansas Limiting Voters to Those With Passports or Birth Certificates

The Washington Post's Sari Horwitz has an in-depth profile of the impact of Kansas' voting identification law, which is disenfranchising citizens who don't have documents to prove they are citizens. One veteran was purged from voter rolls even though he served in the U.S. military, pays taxes and owns a home.

"There is a battle unfolding in Kansas over who can register to vote in the first place. Election-law experts say what happens here could have ramifications for voting throughout the country during a pivotal presidential election year," Horwitz writes.

Kris W. Kobach, Kansas' secretary of state, spearheaded the law in order to address alleged voter fraud, including, he told The Post, from "'aliens getting on our voting rolls. With so many close elections in Kansas, having a handful of votes that are cast by aliens can swing an election.”'

Kansas Law Could Strip Courts of Funding

Kansas has enacted a law that would strip the state courts of their funding if that state's Supreme Court rules against a separate law that removed some of its powers, The New York Times' John Eligon reports.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a courts budget tying funding to a law that took the authority to appoint district court judges from the Supreme Court to the district courts themselves. The measure was promoted by the Kansas Legislature's conservatives.

Richard E. Levy, a constitutional law professor at the University of Kansas, told Eligon the measures in the judiciary budget bill would be like Congress "passing a law outlawing abortion and then telling the judicial branch that it will lose its funding if it finds the law unconstitutional."

Constitutional Amendments Proposed for Selection of Kansas Judges

Constitutional amendments have been proposed to transform the selection of Kansas appellate judges, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tim Carpenter reports. One plan would abandon a merit-selection system in which a nominating commission forwards finalists for Supreme Court vacancies to the governor. The governor already has the power to pick Court of Appeals judges outright. Another plan would institute elections for both appellate courts.

Jeffrey Jackson, a law professor at Washburn University in Topeka, testified during a legislative hearing that "judges should not be reshaped into politicians who compete for contributions and work the campaign trail."

In Supreme Court Race, Gap Exposed in Campaign Finance Rules

ProPublica's Robert Faturechi reports on how a push by a dark-money group to oust some Kansas judges running for retention has exposed a gap in that state's campaign finance laws. The group Kansans for Justice is encouraging voters to reject the retention of Supreme Court Justices Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson: "Even though the group has all the hallmarks of a political committee – it is soliciting contributions, plans to send mailers, and has an explicit electoral goal – it's not required to report anything about its leadership, donors or spending," ProPublica reports. Why? Supreme Court justices are not included in Kansas' legal definition of "state officers," so groups trying to influence races involving the justices don't have to make those sort of disclosures, ProPublica further reports.

Kansas Bill to Protect Religious-Based LGBT Discrimination Declared Dead

The chairman of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee has declared dead a bill that would have shielded business owners from being forced to service same-sex weddings if that would be against their religious beliefs, the Associated Press reports. The bill, which was passed by the House, would have barred governmental sanctions and anti-discrimination lawsuits in those circumstances.

As I noted in my prior post on this legislation, LGBT-rights advocates criticized the bill for allowing governmental workers to cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide governmental services to gay couples.

Kansas Panel Advances Legislation to Allow Religious-Based LGBT Discrimination

As Kansas "braces for the federal courts striking down Kansas' ban on gay marriage," a House legislative committee has passed a bill that would shield business owners from being forced to service same-sex weddings if that would be against their religious beliefs, the Associated Press reports. The bill would bar governmental sanctions and anti-discrimination lawsuits in those circumstances.

LGBT-rights advocates criticized the bill for allowing governmental workers to cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide governmental services to gay couples, the AP further reports. The bill requires "agencies to seek a work-around - if it isn't an 'undue hardship,'" according to the AP.


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