Article 4, Section 4 of the Federal Constitution of 1787 begins with a simple declarative clause. “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.”
This does not mean that the modern Republican Party is guaranteed power, nor does it mean that any infringement on their absolute rule is by definition illegitimate and that anything they do in order to perpetuate their iron grip on power – even if it is expressly forbidden by laws, ethics, or constitutions – is therefore not only justified but absolutely morally sanctified by Jebus Armor-Plated Christ Hissownself (a heavily armed and bitterly partisan figure not to be confused with any actual Savior or Deity). Someone should really let them in on this little fact. It will come as a bitter surprise to them, no doubt.
Instead, that clause means that the states must have a government that fits the definition of republicanism as understood by the Founding Fathers.
Fortunately this is a fairly flexible arrangement – the Founders were excellent historians and understood that times change and Constitutions needed the ability to change with them. But there are a few non-negotiable points even so.
The most important of these points is the notion of balanced republican government, a concept I have discussed at length elsewhere in this blog, such as here, here and here. For my purposes in this post, the key thing you have to remember about balanced republican government is that it is divided government. There are three branches – a One, a Few, and a Many – and they each have the power to check the others.
In the American context – which is slightly amended from the English context that the Founders inherited, simply because the English context didn’t exist on this side of the Atlantic – the One is the Executive, the Few is the Judiciary, and the Many is the Legislature. This is called “the separation of powers.” You have to have all of these things, and they have to have the power to check the other two, or you don’t have a Republican form of Government as defined by the Constitution.
Most relevant to today, you had to have an independent judiciary.
The American judiciary was elevated from being mere servants of the King’s will to being a fully independent arm of a balanced republican government by John Adams in his Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which in turn was the model for the Federal Constitution of 1787 that so many modern Americans claim to worship in ways that border on blasphemy but who show no signs of actually having read.
American judges must have the ability to overturn laws passed by the legislature and signed by the executive if those laws violate the Constitution – either the state or federal constitution, depending on what level of judges you’re looking at. Without that ability they are nothing, mere servants of a corrupt political system.
For the Founders, securing the independence of the judiciary meant doing several things.
First, it meant insulating them from political pressure from below. There is a reason why federal judges are appointed for life (on good conduct). Otherwise they are mere politicians, as has been amply demonstrated by the partisan debacle that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has become in the last few years.
Second, it meant insulating them from above, mostly by making sure that their salaries and funding could not be tampered with by executives or legislatures unhappy with their verdicts. Those judges had to have the ability to rule for the Constitution without fear of financial reprisal. An executive who overstepped his bounds and threatened this would be, in the words of the Founding Fathers, a tyrant, a rebel against the Constitution, and subject to fierce and unrelenting punishment.
Which of course brings us to Sam Brownback, would-be tyrant of Kansas.
Brownback, for those of you not up on your right-wing extremists here in the US of A, is the Teabagger poster child. He is even more of a puppet of the Koch brothers than Wisconsin’s own Fearless Leader, and with the aid of a compliant and bent-over legislature he has fully implemented the radical right’s extreme agenda. And in a development that has surprised nobody with more than four working brain cells, this has resulted in absolute catastrophe for Kansas. Their economy is in ruins. Their educational system is now a laughing stock. Their political system has been reduced to servility. They are an international model of how not to run a civil society, and they are doubling down on their insanity every six to eight weeks on top of it.
The near-sighted regime in Wisconsin has taken this as a model to be emulated rather than a warning to be heeded, because reasons. It's been quite a ride here, and getting more so every day. Things have gotten so bad in Kansas, however, that even some Republicans are starting to wonder. This has had no impact, though. The modern American right-wing extremist has a notoriously thin skin when it comes to dissent of any kind, and this is fully evident in Kansas.
On June 4, 2015, Sam Brownback, would-be tyrant of Kansas, signed a bill that threatens the entire state judiciary of Kansas with destruction if it rules against a law he favors. The Kansas Supreme Court had ruled against his effort to destroy the public schools in that state, and with that issue now coming back before the Court Brownback and the Kansas legislature have now explicitly threatened to cancel all funding for the entire Kansas judiciary if it rules against him.
Think about that. No courts. No trials. No lawsuits. No legal system. All because the Kansas courts were doing their constitutionally mandated job. Yeah, that's the kind of thing the Founding Fathers had in mind all right, said nobody ever. At least nobody who hadn't been eating lead paint and high-powered hallucinogens as mainstays of their diets since they were toddlers, anyway.
The breathtaking arrogance and criminality of this bill is staggering. Whatever this may imply for the Kansas Constitution, this assault on judicial independence would be a direct violation of Article 4, Section 4 of the Federal Constitution.
Threatening the existence of an independent judiciary is a classic sign of tyranny, both in the 18th-century sense of the executive overreaching its authority and in the modern sense of a dictatorial power grab. It would destroy the balanced republican government of the state of Kansas, the one that the Constitution guarantees, and substitute the fiat rule of a self-created emperor.
Merely by announcing this threat Brownback and his supporters have placed themselves in opposition to the Constitution of the United States. By enacting the law that encompasses this threat they have announced themselves to be subversives. If they make good on their threat they will explicitly declare themselves to be rebels.
Brownback and anyone associated with this effort should have been removed from office by now and placed in holding cells awaiting trial, but in a one-party state like Kansas there is no real possibility of that unless the federal government gets directly involved. The fact that officials can seriously propose such irresponsible legislation in the United States of today is nothing short of appalling, and the fact that they are walking around freely having done so in a state entirely controlled by the GOP is a sign of just how corrupt and destructive the modern Republican Party has become and an ominous development for the long-term viability of the American republic.