Kansas Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles and District Judge Mike Ward,
both EHS graduates, visited El Dorado High School on October 7 to talk
to students about the Judicial branch and its role in our government.
Ward described the hierarchy of the state court systems. Cases are
heard at District Court, but can be appealed to Kansas Appellate Court
or to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Justice Biles told students a
little about his background before delving into the role of the Kansas
Judicial Branch. After earning a Journalism degree at K-State, he worked
for a couple of smaller newspaper companies before joining the
Associated Press in Topeka. He then went to law school and was
subsequently hired by the Attorney General in 1980.
Justice Biles opened his own private law practice, where he remained for
24 years, until he was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court by
Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Justice Biles explained how the nomination
A committee chooses three nominees that they feel
would uphold the national and state constitutions. The committee submits
those nominations to the state governor, who appoints one of them to
the open position on the state supreme court.
The Judicial branch
is only one of the three branches that make up our government. The
Legislative branch makes the laws, the Executive branch enforces the
laws, and the Judicial branch interprets the laws. He stressed the
importance of the checks and balances provided by having three separate
"We are a government of words and those words come from the Constitution," Justice Biles said.
functions of the Judicial branch are to resolve disputes through the
legal process; interpret and apply the law; determine the
constitutionality of laws; and to interpret the Constitution. The courts
can only comment on laws if they hear cases pertaining to them. They
cannot initiate controversy about a particular law if there has not been
a case presented to them that questions that law.
provided examples of cases that challenge current laws or
interpretations of those laws. The first example involved the eighth
amendment which involves excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment
in the case of Weems v. United States (1910).
The second example discussed search and seizure wording in the fourth amendment and how that applies to cell phones.
In Section One of the Kansas Constitution, it states, "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The state supreme court recently had to interpret that law, specifically the right to liberty, as it applied to abortion.
Article Six of the Kansas Constitution says that the state legislature is required to provide suitable funding for education. The state supreme court determined that the interpretation of "suitable" should mean adequate and equitable.
In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the court commented that the Judiciary branch ahs no influence over sword or purse. This means that the courts can interpret laws and determine the constitutionality of laws, but they cannot create laws, nor enforce them. The Rule of Law is essential to keeping order. It states that everyone must follow the laws; leaders must obey the laws; the government must obey the laws; and that nobody is above the law.
One of the most notable challenges to the Rule of Law happened after Brown v. Board of Education. Segregation was determined to be unconstitutional as separation based on skin color was inherently unequal. This ruling triggered the Southern Manifesto and the governor of Little Rock, Arkansas refused to allow black students to attend a white school in 1957.
President Eisenhower made a national announcement that supported the Rule of Law and insisted that no man is above our nation's laws, no matter his political role. He ordered the first airborne unit to go to Little Rock. This was the first time our troops were ordered into a domestic dispute, but President Eisenhower felt strongly that not to intervene would undermine the Rule of Law, and as the leader of the Executive branch, it was his duty to enforce the laws of our land.
This brief lesson on the Judicial branch preceded the Kansas Supreme Court's special session which took place in the El Dorado High School auditorium that evening.
The special session was open to anyone who wanted to hear oral arguments in person. They heard two separate cases; one involving a criminal charge and one involving a business dispute.
After the session, the justices greeted the public in an informal reception in the EHS commons.
For more information about the Kansas Supreme Court, visit their website: www.kscourts.org.
KS Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles (left) and District Judge Mike Ward (right)