Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has defunded the Minnesota legislature, using a line-item veto, in response to “poison-pill” tactics used by legislative Republican majorities. The GOP is taking the matter to the state Supreme Court.
Mary Jane Morrison, professor emeritus at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said a lawsuit against Dayton could be followed by another suit challenging the Legislature and whether its budget bills violated the clause of the state constitution that says bills must be limited to a single subject.
“When the court has to deal with one of them, they’ll take up both of them,” Morrison said. “The solution won’t necessarily be one that the Legislature will ever be happy about, because the single-subject clause is really clear.”
While Dayton’s line-item veto is the immediate cause of the constitutional crisis, flagrant violation of the single subject rule by the legislature is the real culprit…
The stripping away of the State Auditor’s powers was attached to a larger unrelated bill under the cloak of darkness. The same can be said about the legislature’s poison pill in the tax bill. But even if they were not hidden as the Republican legislative leaders contend, they still violated the letter if not the spirit of the single-subject rule. They also point to how leadership has failed to enforce germaneness rules that would keep policy and appropriation bills separate. Viewed in this context, the governor’s line-item veto was constitutionally under-minded. Yes, Dayton could have vetoed entire omnibus budget bills, but that would have triggered another political and constitutional crisis in terms of another governmental shutdown. No matter the choice Dayton faced, there was a constitutional problem.
Viewed in isolation Dayton’s line-item vetoing of the legislature’s funding is constitutionally wrong. He cannot use that veto to negate or undermine the authority of another constitutionally-explicit branch of the government—this is a major separation of powers issue. Yet if the only lawsuit filed is one by the legislature then that may be the decision the Minnesota Supreme Court is forced to bring. However, there needs also to be a lawsuit brought by legislators—and Senator John Marty is contemplating one—raising the single-subject rule to many of the omnibus bills passed this term. They should also join the State Auditor in her appeal to the Supreme Court. Why? If the Court is given the opportunity to rule on both the line-item veto and the single-subject rule then it would perhaps be able either to join the cases or resolve them in a way that defines the proper limits on what the legislature can do, thereby also drawing lines regarding what the governor can do. Defining the limits of the single-subject rule and the line-item veto would then also clarify the separation of powers issue.