by Erick Eckholm
TOPEKA, Kan. — Washington is locked in partisan warfare over control of the Supreme Court. But it is hardly the only place. Look at the states, where political attacks on judicial decisions are common and well-financed attack ads are starting to jar the once-sleepy elections for State Supreme Court seats.
Nowhere is the battle more fiery than here in Kansas. Gov. Sam Brownback and other conservative Republicans have expressed outrage over State Supreme Court decisions that overturned death penalty verdicts, blocked anti-abortion laws and hampered Mr. Brownback’s efforts to slash taxes and spending, and they are seeking to reshape a body they call unaccountable to the right-tilting public.
At one point, the Legislature threatened to suspend all funding for the courts. The Supreme Court, in turn, ruled in February that the state’s public schools must shut down altogether if poorer districts do not get more money by June 30.
“A political bullying tactic” and “an assault on Kansas families, taxpayers and elected appropriators,” is how the president of the Senate, Susan Wagle, a Republican, responded to that ruling, which was based on requirements in the state Constitution. Mr. Brownback spoke darkly of an “activist Kansas Supreme Court.”
In March, in the latest salvo, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill to authorize impeachment of justicesif their decisions “usurp” the power of other branches. But the climactic battle is expected in the November elections, when conservatives hope to remake the seven-member Supreme Court in a flash, by unseating four justices regarded as moderate or liberal.
Partisan conflict over courts has erupted in many of the 38 states where justices are either directly elected or, as in Kansas, face periodic retention elections, without an opposing candidate. As conservatives in Washington attempt to preserve a majority on the federal Supreme Court, politically ascendant conservatives in several states are seeking to reshape courts that they consider to be overly liberal vestiges of eras past.
“We’ve seen this tug of war between courts and political branches all around the country,” said Alicia Bannon, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.