New arguments filed Friday in the ongoing legal dispute between Gov. Mark Dayton and leaders of the Minnesota Legislature show the two sides remain deeply divided on a key question: whether the judicial branch has the right to order funding and keep other branches of government running.
Attorneys for the DFL governor and GOP legislative leaders offered up dueling arguments in response to an order from the Minnesota Supreme Court last week. While the state’s high court weighed in on some of the questions raised by Dayton’s veto of funding for the state House and Senate, it asked for more information before making a final ruling.
Among the requests were legal opinions from both sides on whether the court could order at least minimal levels of funding to keep the Legislature in business, should Dayton’s veto stand.
The governor’s response, in short: yes.
The Legislature’s: no.
In a 23-page memo, Dayton’s attorneys — led by retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sam Hanson — argue that the state’s courts have been a backstop for emergency funding in the past and that they can be again in this case. It notes that the court system ordered funding for itself in 2011 and 2001, when the Legislature failed to approve its budget. It did the same in 2011 for the legislative branch, amid a government shutdown.
“Where there is a conflict between a lack of funds and the constitutional rights of the people, the latter wins,” the memo reads. “The Minnesota Constitution was drafted to effectuate the operation of government, and it empowers the Judiciary to order funding to achieve that end.”
But in their own lengthy response, the Legislature’s attorneys — led by former federal prosecutor Douglas Kelley — have a very different read on the question before the Supreme Court. They argue that the emergency funding decisions of the recent past were not constitutional. As a result, they say upholding Dayton’s veto would effectively do away with the Legislature, because it would have no options to secure funding to pay 201 legislators and several hundred employees.
“Emergency core-function funding does not become constitutional because it happened before or because the parties request it,” Kelley’s memo reads.
The governor and the Legislature are expected to file a joint memo on the state of the Legislature’s finances on Monday. In the meantime, the Legislature’s legal memo suggests that the state Senate has enough money in reserve to keep things running for 60 days and the House for 120 days, if the Supreme Court allows Dayton’s veto to stand.
Mediation set next week
Both sides want to see the Supreme Court fully weigh in on a lower-court ruling that found that Dayton’s veto was unconstitutional. The governor wants to see that ruling overturned, while the Legislature wants the high court to uphold it without reservation.
Before that happens, both sides will have to complete a court-ordered mediation process that’s expected to begin next week.
Taxpayers will cover the cost of the ongoing legal battle, though the final total of the bill remains unknown.
Legal bills for the governor’s office totaled $245,000 through the end of August. The Legislature won’t receive a bill until the matter is settled, but lead attorney Kelley is charging $325 per hour. It’s unclear how the costs of upcoming mediation sessions will be split; a spokesman for the Minnesota Management and Budget office said the details of that deal are still being worked out.