Republican legislators in Minnesota have accused the Democratic governor of trying to eliminate a coequal branch of government by withholding its funding, arguing that preventing the legislature from paying its bills amounts to cutting it out of the government altogether.
Gov. Mark Dayton claims that his veto authority is clearly stated in the state constitution and that his authority to strike funding for a branch of government is constitutional. After lawmakers passed a budget that contained tax cuts he didn’t agree with, Dayton used his line-item veto authority to strike the entire budget for the legislative branch, including salaries.
Dayton’s hope was that his veto would force lawmakers to return to the bargaining table. Instead, they sued.
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Aug. 28 heard oral arguments from lawyers representing the governor and the legislature.
Law professor Peter Knapp of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law said he expects a tempered decision from the state’s highest court.
“There may be an earthshaking decision,” Knapp said, but that would be unlikely. “The Minnesota Supreme Court is very restrained. They could very well resolve this dispute but find a way to leave the door open for future disputes.”
Historically, the Supreme Court has found ways to speak in a unified voice, he said. Knapp used the example of the Franken-Coleman recount case of a time when the Supreme Court acted unanimously despite partisan affiliations. In that 2009 case, the court unanimously rejected Norm Coleman’s appeal to challenge the recount of a tight Senate race.
Herbert Kritzer, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, noted that “four of the six justices who will decide the case were appointed by Governor Dayton, and if this were Wisconsin and not Minnesota, I would predict that they would favor Dayton; but…partisanship has not become important in Minnesota as it has in Wisconsin.”
Like Knapp, Kritzer said he thinks the case is more of a tossup than either the governor or legislature would like.
Knapp said a decision will likely come down in about three to four weeks.