Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Legislature v. Dayton

August 28, 2017 07:15 PM

The fate of the legal battle between Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers now rests with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"I think the Legislature's argument depends on the false premise that they have been abolished and they have not been abolished," said Sam Hanson, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice who represents the governor.


The attorney for the House and Senate, Doug Kelley, argued that the governor's line-item veto of nearly $130 million in funding for the legislature had the effect of "abolishing" the legislature.

"If you use that veto and it has the effect of abolishing another can't abolish another branch," Kelley told the six justices hearing the case (Justice David Stras recused himself).  

But Justice Natalie Hudson quickly interrupted Kelley. "Aren't you engaging in a little bit of hyperbole?" she asked. "The legislature is not abolished. I mean only...a branch of government can only be abolished by constitutional amendment, and that certainly hasn't happened."

Kelley said at a minimum the line-item veto rendered the legislature "inoperative."

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea asked the attorney for Governor Dayton if a Supreme Court ruling in the governor's favor could allow a future governor to also veto funding for the judicial branch.

"If we agree with you that the governor's authority to line-item veto the appropriation is as you suggest, then what's to stop a future governor or future legislature from entirely defunding the judicial branch of government?" Gildea asked.

Hanson's response: "Your ruling that the governor's veto is legal is simply an interpretation of the Constitution and the express words of the Constitution which provides no limitation, no qualification. If it's an item of appropriation he's entitled to veto it."

GOP legislative leaders said Monday they are disappointed Dayton is continuing to fight the lower court ruling that his line-item veto on the budget was unconstitutional.

A Ramsey County judge ruled in the legislature's favor last month.

Dayton used a line-item veto to force top Republicans to rework major tax bill provisions and other measures he signed into law earlier this year.

Dayton, after emerging from the hearing, said he still believes his "veto was constitutional."

Once a final decision is made, the ruling could set a major precedent for a governor's use of the veto pen.

There's no timetable for a decision, but temporary funding put in place after the Ramsey County Court ruling runs out October 1. A decision is likely before then.

Monday's hearing was also the first to be streamed live on the internet.

RELATED: State Supreme Court to Begin Livestreaming Oral Arguments

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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