Minnesota cage match, 2017 edition (6)

I have been following the ongoing cage match between Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s majority-Republican House and Senate in this series. At the end of this year’s slightly extended legislative session Dayton signed all tax and budget bills. He could have vetoed any of them. Even though he professed extreme unhappiness with certain items, he signed the bills The package of budget, tax and state government bills that finally passed reflected compromises on the part of all participants including Dayton and his commissioners.

As a result of his unhappiness with certain items, however, Governor Dayton exercised his authority to veto budgetary line items to wipe out the funding of the legislative branch. Dayton explained himself in the letter posted here. Dayton demanded that Republicans revisit selected issues on his terms after they had already given ground elsewhere to arrive at the bills that were sent to him for his signature and adjourned. Unlike some other Republicans I can think of on the national scene, they weren’t inclined to make fools of themselves. In the letter Dayton described one provision of the special session state government finance bill as “treachery.” It reflects Dayton’s true voice.

The legislature thought that Governor Dayton just may have slightly overstepped his constitutional authority by wiping out its funding and took Governor Dayton to court. The legislature’s current funding expired on July 1. In an interim ruling Ramsey County District Judge Guthmann required continued funding for the legislature through October 1. He drew on the Minnesota Constitution to support his ruling. “If the legislative branch is not funded, it cannot carry out its core functions, which include those functions necessary to draft, debate, publish, vote on and enact legislation,” Judge Guthmann wrote. The interim ruling foretold Judge Guthmann;s final decision in the case, ruling against Dayton on constitutional grounds. Judge Guthmann’s order and supporting memorandum are posted here.

Governor Dayton appealed Judge Guthmann’s ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court. On September 8 the Court issued a unanimous 6-page order under the signature of Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. The order is posted online here.

In its order the Court held that Dayton constitutionally exercised his line-item veto power, but ruled further that this conclusion “does not end the matter.” The circumstances, the Court observed, “raise doubts about the continued functioning of the legislative branch” as contemplated in the state constitution. “Constitutional powers may not be used to accomplish an unconstitutional result,” the order provides. Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court order failed to resolve the issues raised by what Governor Dayton has done.

The question of continued funding troubled the Court. It noted the constitutional requirement for the legislature to authorize appropriations. It hesitated to order funding unless “absolutely necessary.” It called for another round in the cage match to obtain additional “input from the parties in order to assist the court in deciding this case.”

The Court would like Dayton and the legislature to get it out of this fine mess. It ordered the parties to “participate in good-faith efforts to resolve this dispute through mediation.” Last week the parties agreed to the appointment of former Hennepin County District Judge Richard Solum as a mediator. MPR’s Brian Bakst filled in the background on Solum here. My guess is that they aren’t going to work it out.

The parties were to file memoranda on the Court’s authority to order funding for the legislature. On Friday the parties filed their memoranda. The Supreme Court has made them accessible along with the other filings in the case here. The Star Tribune briefly covers last week’s filings here. Our friend Howard Root gives them a pointed reading via Twitter.

Governor Dayton argues that the court can order funding necessary to the functioning of the legislature. The legislature argues that the court lacks such authority. The legislature’s memorandum is a sophisticated piece of legal analysis that I won’t attempt to recapitulate here. I will only say that I can see the careful hand of my friend David Herr in it and that it is worth reading; David co-authored the brief with Minneapolis attorney Doug Kelley.

Governor Dayton does not want to live with the consequences of what he has done, or he wants a higher authority to save him from them. The legislature, on the other hand, if it does not win outright, seeks to let Dayton stew in his juices while the tension implicit in the Court’s order is heightened.

I think the story remains intensely interesting. It is indisputably developing…