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Control of State Courts Becomes Top Political Battleground in Kansas & Across Nation

The Kansas Judicial Center is home to the Kansas Supreme Court.  (Photo by J. Schafer)

ATLANTA (AP) — Much attention is being paid to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, but equally partisan battles are being waged for control of state courts around the nation. In states where voters elect Supreme Court judges, millions of dollars are being spent to reshape the courts for years to come. Judicial watchdogs say spending by national groups overwhelmingly favors judges on the right of the political spectrum, and is mostly aimed at maintaining or improving the courts' responses to corporate interests while countering state-level spending by labor unions and other interest groups. Lawmakers are busy too, debating proposals to tip the balance of power by expanding or reducing their court's size. In Kansas, lawmakers have been pushing to make it easier to impeach judges whose rulings upset the legislative majority. An effort is also underway in Kansas to target certain justices who face retention votes this year. Groups supportive of Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature will be looking to oust four of the five justices up for retention elections in November, enabling Brownback to select their replacements to the seven-member court. After the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the legislature to restore school funding, the state’s senators approved a bill enabling the impeachment of justices who attempt to “usurp the power” of lawmakers and executive branch officials. The House has yet to take up the measure. Critics have said the measure would remove the court’s independence by threatening the justices’ careers if the court strikes down a law.

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