Dayton’s Defunding of Legislature Overturned by Court

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Image Credit: Preya Samsundar/Alpha News

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Ramsey County judge ruled Wednesday that Gov. Mark Dayton violated the Minnesota Constitution when he vetoed funding for the legislature earlier this year.

“The court concludes that the Governor’s vetoes violated the Separation of Powers clause of the Minnesota Constitution because they both nullified a branch of government and refashioned the line-item veto as a tool to secure the repeal or modification of policy legislation unrelated to the vetoed appropriation,” Judge John Guthmann wrote in his decision.

Dayton vetoed the funding for the State Senate and House at the end of May. He did so in an attempt to force Republican legislative leaders into a special session, where he hoped to see tax breaks and language barring illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses repealed. He had signed those provisions into law because a provision in the State Government Omnibus bill would have defunded the Minnesota Department of Revenue unless the Tax Bill was signed into law.

As a consequence, Republicans filed suit against Dayton in June. Dayton has promised to appeal the case up to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“Today’s District Court ruling is only a preliminary step in this case’s judicial process,” Dayton wrote in a press release. “The Stipulation, which the House, Senate, and I filed with the District Court Judge in June, states, ‘The parties agree to jointly seek accelerated review by the Minnesota Supreme Court of the District Court’s order or judgment.’ Accordingly, I have asked Sam Hanson, my legal counsel, to appeal this decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

A large part of today’s decision was based on Dayton openly admitting he had used the line-item veto as a political tool, rather than in its intended use as a check against the legislature.

“Absent emergency court funding, the effective abolition will exist as long as the Governor decides to veto legislative funding bills submitted to him, which the Governor’s counsel conceded could occur through the remainder of the Governor’s term,” Guthmann wrote. “The Governor argues that the vetoes abolished or defunded the legislature. However emergency funding is at most a temporary measure to preserve the constitutional rights of the people while the Executive and Legislative Branches resolve their differences. Emergency funding is not a remedy for arguably unconstitutional actions by one branch of government against another.”

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) celebrated the ruling on Twitter, calling it a “pretty good day for Minnesotans!”

Anders Koskinen