By Rochelle Olson
Minnesota courts will continue to function and employees will be paid even if state government shuts down Friday, a judge ordered Tuesday.
Retired Judge Bruce Christopherson ordered the Judicial branch to continue operating at current funding levels to “fulfill its obligations, and to ensure citizens’ rights, under the Minnesota Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.”
Government will shutdown unless the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton reach a two-year budget agreement or approve a law to keep functions ticking even without a full budget in place.
Christopherson wrote that the “safety and protection of Minnesotans” must be ensured even “when the traditional processes of government have failed.”
At a one-hour hearing Monday in Ramsey County District Court, Christopherson heard arguments in favor of keeping the courts afloat from Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office, Dayton’s office and the state Board of Public Defense. Four Republican senators unsuccessfully tried to insert themselves into the case and requested the judge order Dayton to call a special session.
Christopherson, appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the case, denied the GOP senators’ request.
The senators, through their lawyer Fritz Knaak, also argued that only the Legislature and the governor can allocate funding for the judiciary under the state constitution.
But the others said two branches of government shouldn’t be able to shut down a third.
If the courts went unfunded, “the basic, essential constitutional rights of the public would be unprotected and fail,” the judge wrote.
Lawyer Christopher Madel made that argument on behalf of the public defenders Monday, saying the accused could go without their constitutional right to effective counsel if public defenders aren’t on the job.
Dayton and GOP legislative leaders have been meeting to try to resolve their budget differences and avoid a shutdown Friday.
Read the order: