AP: Chief justice won't address Legislature

1/1/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — House Speaker Ray Merrick has turned down a request from Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss to address the 2013 Legislature.

TOPEKA (AP) — House Speaker Ray Merrick has turned down a request from Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss to address the 2013 Legislature.

Traditionally, the chief justice appears during the legislative session to give lawmakers an update on the status of the state's court system. This year, however, Merrick asked Nuss to put his report in writing.

"It's just another thing to take up time," Merrick told The Kansas City Star. "I just think it's time that could be put to better use on other things."

Merrick, a conservative Republican from Stilwell, was chosen by his GOP colleagues to be the House speaker for the next two years. Nuss was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Bill Graves.

The top House Democrat said Merrick's decision is a sign of growing animosity between the GOP and the courts.

"Many right-wing Republicans don't view the judiciary as a co-equal branch of government," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence. "It doesn't surprise me that the incoming legislative leadership has decided not to let them be heard."

Merrick said he made his decision about Nuss speaking to legislators after discussing it with new Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. He said he had received complaints from individuals who felt that the court address was a "gigantic waste of time."

"People are going read into it whatever they want to read into it," Merrick said. "I can't prevent that."

Nuss wrote a letter to court employees informing them of Merrick's decision and saying the annual report would be put in writing. Nuss also is looking at other options for presenting the judicial update to legislators in person.

Nuss had presented the material to legislators each of the past two years. However, a court spokesman said it was unclear how long the practice had occurred and that chief justices hadn't always addressed the Legislature.

The relationship between the courts and the Legislature has been tested in recent years over funding. During the 2012 session, Nuss closed the courts for a day after legislators were slow to act on the state budget. Some legislators said Nuss could have prevented the closure if he would have used funds available in other court accounts not financed by state revenues.

A 2005 ruling by the Supreme Court regarding school spending resulted in the Legislature increasing education funding by nearly $1 billion. It has prompted several attempts in the House to pass a constitutional amendment to state that only the Legislature and not the courts or executive branch could appropriate money.

Legislators and some interest groups have suggested this session will include renewed efforts to change the way judicial appointments are made.

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