The What: Maintaining the balance of powers

OK, so, I’m cheating a little bit for this last post of “what week”, because, while this is about a policy itself, it’s one that would–in fundamental and actually quite frightening ways–affect the how of policymaking, too.

In Kansas this legislative session, and in some other parts of the country, too, there have been explicit attempts to cut the judiciary out of the policymaking process.

In my state, this has taken the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to stipulate that only the legislature has the authority to determine what appropriate funding for public education is, so that, essentially, the ‘right’ level of funding is whatever the legislature decides to give, and students and schools would lose their right to seek redress from the courts.

It would be damaging to public education.

And it would be a really dangerous precedent.

History is replete with examples of when judicial advocacy has been a successful path to social justice. Even when individual justices, or even the entire judiciary, is fairly conservative, the way in which the court operates can sometimes lead to surprising conclusions.

In ways that are really promising for the pursuit of the ideals on which the country was founded.

Individuals with disabilities entitled to access, people of color pursuing equal opportunity, gays and lesbians seeking the right to marry…all deserve to have all of the channels of our government open to them.

Sometimes social workers, as advocates, can lose sight of the importance of some of these ‘process’ threats. We have not been very active in the campaign finance debate. We tend to be absent in the fights over collective bargaining rights.

And, so far, at least in Kansas, social workers have not been very present in the constitutional amendment battle about the role of the judiciary, either. Maybe, in part, that’s because school finance isn’t seen as ‘our fight’. And there are plenty of things that are. This session alone, we’ve faced budget cuts, more tax restructuring, drug testing TANF recipients, and elimination of some early intervention programs. Among others.

But if we lose on these ‘whats’, we will find ourselves with very constrained options for pursuing tomorrow’s ‘hows’.

If the other side changes the rules of the game, we will find it harder and harder to win.

It’s certainly not that the judiciary is always a slam-dunk for justice.

But it’s part of the system that, over time, has worked better for securing liberties than any other. And we face far better odds with the courts at the table than without.

So, this, too, has to be our fight.

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