By Derek Schmidt, Kansas Attorney General
The recently concluded U.S. Supreme Court term was a blockbuster for the rule of law, producing important decisions that reinforce the principle that courts are to interpret the law as it actually is written, not as judges or advocates wish it to be.
The highest-profile case of the term was Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which the Court summarized as holding that “[t]he Constitution does not confer a right to abortion … and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” This was the right decision, and now the people of Kansas will exercise that authority on August 2 by voting on the Value Them Both amendment, which I support.
But this term saw other similarly important landmark rulings that drew less attention. As attorney general, I appreciated helping litigate these cases for Kansas.
Religious liberty: In several cases, the Supreme Court provided new clarity on how the First Amendment both protects Americans’ right to the “free exercise” of religion and forbids the government to “establish” religion. The Court explained that governments may not discriminate by excluding religious schools from a program that otherwise provides public funding to private schools (Carson v. Makin). The government also may not discriminate against the religious expression of a public-school football coach who kneels on the field for personal prayer after a game (Kennedy v. Bremerton School District). Together, these decisions expand Americans’ liberty to exercise religious faith without government interference just as the Constitution expressly provides.
Second Amendment: More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court clarified that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep firearms in one’s home. But only this term did the Court further clarify that the constitutional right to “keep and bear” arms extends outside a person’s residence (New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen). This landmark decision confirms what I long have thought true – Second Amendment rights, like other constitutional rights, are not confined to be exercised only in a person’s home.
The federal bureaucracy: In what may prove a highly consequential decision, the Supreme Court held that federal bureaucracies can exercise only powers that Congress gives them, and that Congress must be clear when it intends to delegate major powers (West Virginia v. EPA). In other words, the people’s elected representatives in Congress, not unelected bureaucrats, make the law. Reestablishing democratic control over the sprawling federal bureaucracy is, in my view, one of the most important steps we must take to preserve liberty for future generations.
Defense of duly-enacted laws: As attorney general, part of my job is to defend laws passed by the Legislature whenever their legality is challenged in court, whether I personally favor a particular law or not. But some activist state officials refuse to defend laws they don’t like. The Supreme Court this term made clear that states can make sure their laws are not nullified by government officials who refuse to do their job. For example, when a governor refuses to defend a law the state may authorize the attorney general to do so (Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center). In our system of government, every democratically enacted law deserves a proper legal defense when challenged.
In each of these cases, I was proud to be a part of the winning side — victories for both the rule of law and limited government. In my view, that’s good for Kansas. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Kansas attorney general.