KASB analysis: Remarks by Nuss may have had dual purpose

Earlier this week, Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss’ message to legislators may have had a dual purpose. 

During his State of the Judiciary address to the House and Senate, Nuss asked legislators to increase funding to operate the judiciary, but some of his speech may have also been aimed at legislators who have expressed anger with the court over school finance and who are seeking to change the Kansas Constitution. 

Nuss said the people of Kansas — through their approval of the Kansas Constitution — wisely created three separate and equal branches of government. 

And he quoted former President Ronald Reagan who emphasized the government’s responsibility in protecting constitutional rights.  

“I … believe that the Federal Government has an obligation to enforce the constitutional rights of even the least individual among us, where he may be, if those rights are being denied, and to do so at the point of bayonet if necessary,” Reagan had said. 

Nuss also quoted Kansan, President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.” 

In the long-running Gannon school finance lawsuit, school districts allege the state has shortchanged K-12 funding, especially in areas that affect poor students. The Kansas Supreme Court has declared the school finance system inadequate and given the Legislature until April 30 to propose a remedy. Some legislators have said the court has overreached its authority and gotten involved in the Legislature’s business of funding schools. 

A proposed amendment has been introduced that would prohibit the courts from closing schools — even though the courts have never said they would — and Gov. Sam Brownback has called for a constitutional amendment to “stop the never-ending cycle of litigation on school finance.” 

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage in both the House and Senate, and approval by a simple majority of voters.  

KASB’s Delegate Assembly has adopted the following position on the role of the courts: “KASB supports the role of an independent judiciary in enforcing constitutional provisions. We oppose either changing the selection process for judges or limiting the ability of the courts to enforce those provisions, which would weaken the traditional separation of powers in Kansas.”  

The state Supreme Court has long been a target of some legislators and Brownback. But even though Brownback called for a constitutional amendment on school finance, he also issued a statement shortly after releasing his budget and proposed $600 million K-12 increase, saying, “While I recognize the proposed budget has drawn criticism from legislators on both sides of the aisle, complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional. I support the rule of law, and I will not stand to see schools closed because of inaction on our part.” 

Share this post