"Amending the state constitution to rein in the courts
would make the judiciary 'a toothless debating society,' "
-- Judge Terry Bullock
Kansas.com / The Wichita Eagle
Posted on Fri, Jul. 15, 2005
Judge blasts amendment to limit courts' powers
TOPEKA - Amending the state constitution to rein in the courts would make the judiciary "a toothless debating society," said the judge who handled the school finance lawsuit that forced legislators to spend more on education.
Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock also disputed that the Kansas Supreme Court was "activist" when it ordered legislators to provide additional money for schools. He discounted the idea that state justices and judges are unaccountable because many of them are appointed.
Bullock spoke Thursday to Topeka's Downtown Rotary Club, less than a week after the Supreme Court said a $148.4 million school finance plan approved by legislators met its mandate for more education funding.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of Bullock's remarks after his appearance; the judge did not return telephone messages left at his home and office.
The education funding plan emerged from a 12-day special session. Conservative Republicans pushed unsuccessfully for constitutional changes to limit judicial power, arguing that it would restore the traditional separation of powers. Others saw it as way to get back at the court for its ruling.
Had the Legislature approved a proposed amendment, it would have gone on the ballot in a special statewide election in September at an estimated cost of $1.7 million.
"If such an amendment passes, the court will become nothing more than a toothless debating society, and our whole concept of limited constitutional government -- where especially the government has to obey your constitution -- will be lost," Bullock said. "Next time, it might be you or your children or your grandchildren who need the court's protection in enforcing our most basic of legal values."
The Supreme Court's order in June required legislators to provide an additional $143 million to schools. That came in a lawsuit filed in 1999 against the state by parents and administrators in Dodge City and Salina. Bullock handled the case in District Court and ruled against the state, which appealed.
Bullock called the Supreme Court's order "rational, measured, respectful, exquisitely judicial and, if anything, restrained and conservative.
"The court did not write a new funding law of its own," he said. "It did not take over the schools. It did not appoint an education czar."
The court, however, did threaten to cut off funding to schools until legislators complied. Some lawmakers viewed that as a move by the court to take legislative action.
Bullock also said that for several centuries, judges have made law by deciding cases where there are no legal precedents or statutes to follow.
"How would you like to come to court with your dispute and have the judge say, 'We don't have a statute on that yet, go away'?" Bullock said.
District judges in 53 counties, including Sedgwick, are elected directly. Judges in 52 counties, including Shawnee, and appellate court judges and justices are appointed by the governor.
But Bullock noted that a nonpartisan commission nominates judicial candidates, who must later ask voters to retain them on the bench. He also noted that a Commission on Judicial Qualifications "can defrock me if I do anything 'unjudicial.'
"How many of you have that kind of oversight?" Bullock said.
Webmaster's Note: Judge Terry Bullock's statement is further responded to by Michael R. Glenn.