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Kansas, coercion and the courts: What an unholy mess

What's wrong with Kansas? A lot

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and his tea party state legislature could use a refresher course in the basic concepts of American governance. As in, checks and balances.

In what can only be seen as attempted extortion, Brownback last week signed into law a measure that will defund the state’s court system should any state judge rule unconstitutional a separate 2014 court reform law enacted by Brownback and his minions. The earlier measure was retaliation for court decisions that held that Kansas’ school funding system was unconstitutionally inconsistent.

All of this mess is rooted in the decision by Brownback and his legislature to apply tea party economics to the state budget (essentially, cut taxes and starve government programs), which has been — as should have been obvious before they started — an abject failure. That embrace of debunked supply-side economics came on the heels of the Great Recession, and has left Kansas in a state of constant crisis.

Now they’ve added another sort of failure: heavy-handed politics that would do a tinhorn dictator proud. It’s unconscionable that a state legislature and a governor would resort to such clearly unconstitutional tactics to try to rig a court case.

“We have a system of checks and balances for a reason, and trying to extort our courts into ruling the way you want or changing the rules of the game to fit your agenda is undemocratic,” Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, told the Brennan Center for Justice, which is involved in the court fight. “Kansas voters chose to enshrine judicial independence in their constitution, and the political branches should not interfere with the will of people.”

Kansas Rep. John Carmichael, who is the top Democrat on the state House Judiciary Committee, was even blunter:

"It leads me to only one conclusion, and that is that the legislature is attempting once again to hold a gun to the head of the courts in an attempt to intimidate the courts into ruling in the school finance case in a way that pleases some members of the legislature," Carmichael told the Lawrence Journal-World.

Remember, this is the same state and political leadership that recently scrapped anti-discrimination measures for state employees based on gender or sexual orientation, changed laws so that anyone 21 or older can walk around with a concealed weapon without training in how to use it and added Dickensian restrictions to the state welfare system.

You have to wonder how long it will be before Kansas brings back the poorhouse system

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.

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