JEFFERSON CITY - Three state senators want to amend the Missouri Constitution to prevent state courts from playing any role in how the state pays for public education.What seems to be forgotten when arguments like this are put forward is that checks and balances exist for a reason. While most people's general understanding of checks and balances stems from the federal government, most state governments have systems based upon similar philosophies.
The measure - which would require voter approval - could derail a lawsuit filed by more than 250 school districts that claim the funding system is unconstitutional.
Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, who is sponsoring the proposed amendment, say he wants to put an end to expensive lawsuits in which tax money is used to fund both sides of a battle between the state and school districts.
But the senator said his broader aim is to make sure that legislators, not the courts, are in control of school funding. Bartle was joined by Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, in filing the proposal.
Checks and balances exist to enforce a separation of powers. The legislators create the law, the courts okay the law and the executive effects the law.
The recent surge in Republican control has led the party to attempt to secure their power and, if they can, take care of some long-standing grudges. One of the most consistent conservative pinatas is the idea that the courts are controlled by liberal judges who override the power of the people represented by the legislature. Yet at the same time, the Republicans are more than willing to override public will to pass their agenda. The concealed weapons permit law was voted down by the people of Missouri. The Republicans then turned around and pushed a bill through the missouri legislature, a venue they certainly controlled.
This is not a philosophical argument about who is allowed to do what, or who is attempting to subvert the will of the people. The actions of the Republicans reflect a desire to get their agenda in place despite opposition in the public or the constitutionality of their policies.
A reflection of that reality is the Republican tendency to push for constitutional amendments. The amendments, by their very nature, can not be reviewed by the courts and dictate what is now allowed. The
What they may not realize, however, is that these actions are an acknowledgment that their arguments will fail in the courts of law, the court of public opinion, or both.
The danger arises when power is taken from the courts. In some ways, the court works to protect the rights of the minority. It takes a majority to pass bills in the legislature, and the existence of a majority is not necessarily a reflection of the justness of the legislation. It can also be extremely difficult to prevent passage of bad legislation. The courts provide a venue for individuals or groups to challenge legislation. The court cannot itself instigate lawsuits, it can only rule on matters brought before them.
Legislation can be faulty and can violate principles inscribed in the constitution. The role of the courts is to address those issues. Once we start to go down the road of restricting the purview of the courts, we could find ourselves with little recourse to challenge bad programs. In fact, we could see the day in which our legislators overturn the very principles that define American democracy.