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Kansas and the Fragility of the American Judiciary

On March 22, the Kansas State Senate passed Senate Bill 439, which effectively expands the scope of impeachment in such a way that the state legislature could remove state supreme court justices merely because they disagree with these judge’s decisions.

Like the United States Constitution, the Kansas Constitution currently allows the legislature to impeach government officials for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  Kansas Const. Art. II § 28.  Judicial officers fall within this ambit; in fact, at least for the United States, most impeachments have been of judges.

Kansas Senate Bill 439 adds a statutory definition interpreting the state constitution’s reference to “other high crimes and misdemeanors” to include:

 

(a)       Commission of offenses which bear on the justice's fitness for the duties such justice holds, which such justice is bound by oath or affirmation to perform;

(b)      commission of other indictable criminal offenses;

(c)       commission of a breach of the public trust;

(d)      commission of a breach of judicial ethics;

(e)       failure to perform adequately the duties of office;

(f)       attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power;

(g)       attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government;

(h)      exhibiting discourteous conduct toward litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers or others with whom the justice or judge deals in an