Supreme Court went too far with supporting city-wide smoking bans


For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court and the supreme courts of the states have acted as the judicial reins in our government’s separation of powers. When it seems as if the legislative and/or executive arms of the government begin to overstep their boundaries or make questionable decisions, the courts often prevent them (see gay marriage).

Unfortunately, this week was an exception to the balance of power, as we were once again left wondering, “What’s the matter with Kansas?”

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that a city government is constitutionally able to restrict a private business from allowing its patrons to smoke.

Dennis Steffes, a Lawrence nightclub owner, was cited by the City of Lawrence for having smoking sections in his establishments, Last Call and Coyotes. According to an article in the Lawrence Journal-World, an ordinance passed by the city bans smoking in almost all indoor businesses on the grounds that it is a hazard to employees.

This is an occasion on which the court got it wrong. The judicial branch of the Kansas government has failed us. One would think that when the government tries to tell a private establishment how to operate, the court would step in and right the wrong. This was not the case.

“We conclude … the Legislature has invited cities to regulate smoking in public places to the maximum extent possible,” said the court in its decision.

Even if a business owner, the employees and the customers of the business have no problem with a lit cigarette in their presence, it is still illegal. Why? Because the government said so.

The court failed to protect the rights of business owners and those who believe in at least a bit of liberty from the government. But the court didn’t stop there. The justices concluded that the city can, in fact, regulate smoking even further.

“… Lawrence doesn’t need to make any changes to its nearly three-year-old law that prohibits smoking in nearly all indoor workplaces. The city also has the legal authority to make the ban stricter, the opinion suggests,” according to the June 24 Journal-World article.

While most Supreme Court decisions put a leash on Congress or the president and pull them back to a reasonable mindset, the decision by the Kansas Supreme Court has all but told the government to keep up the good work.

All of us, smokers and non-smokers alike, should oppose government attempts to control how private citizens conduct business, and we should be angered that the branches of government are in such harmony about this.

At least for now, if we go to Lawrence, we should keep our cigarettes in our pockets.

Owen Kennedy is a senior in human resource management. Please send your comments to