A case that could have political ramifications for years to come goes before Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann Monday. Minnesota’s Republican legislative majority is suing to overturn Governor Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of funding for the legislature claiming it is unconstitutional.
At issue: can Dayton use a veto on one issue (the legislature’s funding) to coerce them to sit down and negotiate on bills he has already signed into law? Is that constitutional? Dayton’s lawyer says the legislature used the same tactic by using “poison pill” to constrain the Governor’s power to veto the tax bill. “Plaintiffs’ unclean hands bar their claim for equitable relief,” wrote Dayton’s lawyer Sam Hanson in briefs filed with the court.
Dayton says the legislature does have another alternative: negotiating with him. And that’s something that the Judge Guthmann asked about several times in the hearing. He also asked if the intent of Dayton’s veto should be considered. Dayton’s attorney said no.
“If the court were to begin to look at the intent or political motivation of a governor behind a veto, there can be no bright line that would exist that would embrace the court’s authority to violate separation of powers and enter the political decision making of another branch of government,” said Dayton’s attorney Sam Hanson. “Once you talk about motive or intent then you’re getting into political deliberations of that other branch.”
Attorney for the legislature, Douglas Kelley, said if Dayton’s line-item veto would be allowed to stand it would be “the most expansive delineation of executive powers for a governor that I have ever heard.”
Judge asked to call “balls and strikes” in constitutional case
Another factor in the case is the ability of the legislature to go to court and have its “core functions” funded as it did during the last government shutdown in 2011. Judge Guthmann asked Kelley “As long as you have temporary funding, and that goes to a well known doctrine, the doctrine of judicial restraint, why should the judiciary get involved in a political question when it can, by injunction essentially, mandatory injunction, keep the core functions of government going while these political issues are addressed?”
Late Monday the court issues an order approving an agreement between Dayton and the legislature. The “stipulation” provides the legislature funding at current levels through Oct 1.
Kelley said that both the legislature and the governor are not willing to negotiate until the constitutionality issue is decided. “We’re not going anywhere here unless you solve this question for us. That’s why we have done so much to tee this up for you to say — call the balls and strikes. That’s what the court does.”
Court observer and constitutional law expert Professor David Schulz of Hamline University says if the court agrees to decide the constitutional issue, he thinks the Dayton “is on more precarious legal ground.”
Which ever side wins, the other is ready to quickly appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Related case on legislative pay raise could impact line-item veto case.
Earlier Judge Guthmann heard a related case where the Association for Government Accountability is suing Minnesota budget director Myron Frans. The group says the legislature must be given the pay raise that resulted from voters passing a constitutional amendment last year. It also says the stipulation between Dayton and the legislature that allows for funding through the end of September should not be allowed because it does not include the constitutionally mandated pay raise.
This is the stipulation that was filed with the court on Friday and approved by the judge late Monday.
Judge Guthmann allowed a video camera in the courtroom, but has prohibited live streaming or broadcasting of the video or audio. The UpTake will post a recording of both cases as soon as possible after the hearing is finished.