If the Minnesota Supreme Court’s directive Friday to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled 2017 Legislature to work out their differences had come as spoken rather than written words, we suspect a scolding tone would have been plainly audible.
The state’s high court held that Dayton’s May 30 line-item veto of House and Senate operating funds was consistent with one provision within the Minnesota Constitution, but that it may still be found to have run afoul of another. It may deprive Minnesotans of three separate and functional branches of government, and therefore deserves a court-ordered remedy. Before the Supreme Court goes there, however, it wants the state’s other two warring branches of government to try again — this time with the aid of a mediator — to reach a compromise. If the two parties don’t agree on a mediator by Tuesday, the court will appoint one of its own choosing.
“A proper respect for our coequal branches of government counsels that we intervene in their dispute only when absolutely necessary,” Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote for the court. She also asked the parties to provide more information about operating funds still available to the House and Senate, and about the constitutionality of the courts ordering funding for the Legislature. “We are unaware of any authority that allows the Judicial Branch to authorize spending simply because the parties ask a court to do so,” Gildea wrote.
Friday’s order is not the definitive or final word about the extent of gubernatorial veto power that many Minnesotans hoped the line-item veto lawsuit would — and may still — produce. Neither does it say anything about the propriety of the Legislature’s move that prompted Dayton’s veto — the automatic defunding of the state’s Revenue Department if Dayton vetoed the Legislature’s tax bill.
But the order does offer the assurance that the Supreme Court isn’t ducking this fight. Implicit in Gildea’s scolding language is the stern message that one way or another, the judicial branch intends to ensure that the other two branches don’t render each other unable to function.