Minnesota Supreme Court Shows Partisan Colors

Flag of Minnesota , USA,  background, texture, blurred image.

Flag of Minnesota , USA, background, texture, blurred image.

Mitchell Rolling

Friday, September 8, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of Governor Dayton and his controversial line-item veto, which withheld funds from the Minnesota legislative branch earlier this year.

The vetoed funding was part of a larger appropriations bill signed by the governor, funding the entire executive branch and public works programs but excluding the legislature. According to the Minnesota Constitution, this action would violate the requirement of having a functioning executive, legislative, and judicial branch of government.

The governor used his veto power to force legislators back to the capitol to renegotiate issues already passed into law that he disagreed with. These included the scaling back of tax cuts and the repealing of a law prohibiting illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license.

Minnesota Republican lawmakers immediately challenged the veto by suing Dayton for overstepping the separation of powers clause in the state Constitution, receiving an early victory from Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann, who ruled in their favor.

Guthmann perfectly stated in his ruling that this veto essentially eliminated “a branch of government and refashioned the line-item veto tool to secure the repeal or modification of policy legislation unrelated to the vetoed appropriation.”

He also pointed out that this ruling did not threaten the governor’s authority in using the line-item veto for appropriation bills — an authority given to the state’s top executive by the Minnesota Constitution – because this case was concerned with shutting down a branch of government, not appropriations.

The Governor would still be free to line-item veto for whatever reason he or she chooses, Guthmann explained, “so long as vetoing the appropriation does not nullify or effectively eliminate a branch of government or a constitutional office.”

This is exactly what the veto did, and for that reason, Guthmann’s conclusion should have been upheld by the state’s Supreme Court.

The justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court, when ruling on their decision, even pointed to a 1955 case that concluded constitutional powers may not be used to seek out “an unconstitutional result.” Yet rather than rightfully establishing this veto as an abuse of power and seeking an unconstitutional result, the court instead seemed to brush over this fact and ruled in the opposite direction.

The court went on to say that regardless of the constitutionality of the veto itself, the legislature must be funded. To achieve this result they ordered the two parties into mediation, and in the case that they do not find a resolution, the court itself will decide what to do.

This was not the worst outcome for Republicans, but it brought forth two concerns.

First, it gave Governor Dayton exactly what he wanted — a chance to renegotiate his desired issues and achieve his demands. And second, if no compromise is met (like it was not the last meeting and the one before that), the Minnesota Supreme Court will make the final decision.

I wonder what the justices — four out seven of which are Dayton appointees — will do if given the chance?

In reality, the governor is playing dirty politics and is disrupting the constitutional balance of Minnesota’s separation of powers. He sought to withhold funding fromonlythe legislative branch because legislators passed policies into law that didn’t fit his political agenda. He is clearly abusing his executive power, and this is a dangerous example of tyranny that could set a bad precedent for Minnesota and the rest of the country.

The Minnesota Supreme Court should have upheld the original ruling of Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann, which properly secured the protections of separation of powers for the state of Minnesota. By not doing so, they have threatened the stability of Minnesota’s constitutional process.