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The Ninetieth Minnesota State Senate v. Dayton

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 16, 2017

The Ninetieth Minnesota State Senate, et al., Respondents,
v.
Mark B. Dayton, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Minnesota, et al., Appellants.

         Office of Appellate Courts Ramsey County

          Douglas A. Kelley, Steven E. Wolter, Kevin M. Magnuson, Brett D. Kelley, Kelley, Wolter & Scott, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and David F. Herr, Maslon LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.

          Sam Hanson, Scott G. Knudson, Scott M. Flaherty, Emily M. Peterson, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants.

          Harry N. Niska, Ross & Orenstein LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Kimberly Reynolds Crockett, Center of the American Experiment, Golden Valley, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Center of the American Experiment.

          Gildea, C.J. Dissenting, Anderson, J. Took no part, Stras, J.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The Governor's exercise of his line-item veto power on appropriations to the Legislature complied with the plain language of Article IV, Section 23 of the Minnesota Constitution.

         2. The plain language of Article XI, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to order funding for the Legislature in the absence of an appropriation.

         3. Because the Legislature has the authority under Minn. Stat. § 3.305, subd. 2 (2016), and Minn. Stat. § 16A.281 (2016), to access appropriated funds that are sufficient to pay the Legislature's estimated expenses and allow it to continue as an independent, functioning branch of state government until it convenes again in regular session, the Governor's exercise of his line-item veto power did not violate Article III of the Minnesota Constitution by effectively abolishing the Legislature.

         4. Because the Legislature has access to appropriated funds that are sufficient to pay the Legislature's estimated expenses and allow it to continue as an independent, functioning branch of state government, it will be able to exercise its constitutional powers under Article IV of the Minnesota Constitution when it reconvenes. Principles of judicial restraint therefore dictate that the judiciary decline to decide whether the Governor's exercise of his line-item veto power violated Article III of the Minnesota Constitution by unconstitutionally coercing the Legislature.

         Reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         On May 25, 2017, the Ninetieth Minnesota State Senate and the Ninetieth Minnesota State House of Representatives (collectively, the Legislature) each adjourned sine die, ending the special session that began on May 23, 2017. On May 30, 2017, the Governor vetoed line-item appropriations to the Legislature for its biennial budget. The Legislature commenced this action, contending, in part, that the line-item veto power cannot be used over the appropriations to itself without violating the Separation-of-Powers clause, Minn. Const. art. III. The Governor contends that the line-item veto power is expressly conferred on the Executive by Article IV, Section 23 of the Minnesota Constitution, and thus its exercise, even over an appropriation for the Legislative Branch of government, cannot violate the Separation-of-Powers clause. The district court held that the line-item vetoes were unconstitutional under Article III. We granted the Governor's petition for accelerated review.

         For the first time in Minnesota history, we are asked to resolve a lawsuit brought by one of our coordinate branches of government-the Legislative Branch-against our other coordinate branch of government-the Executive Branch. We conclude in these unprecedented circumstances that proper respect for our coordinate branches counsels judicial restraint.

         On the Article IV issue, we conclude that the line-item vetoes did not violate Article IV, section 23. On the Article III issue, we conclude that the line-item vetoes did not violate Article III by effectively abolishing the Legislature, but we decline to decide whether those vetoes nevertheless violated Article III as unconstitutionally coercive. We exercise restraint on the coercion aspect of the Article III issue because Article IV of the Minnesota Constitution-addressing the legislative process--textually commits to the Legislature and the Governor the powers to resolve political disputes that arise in the course of that process, including the process of appropriating funding. The parties have so far failed to resolve their dispute through the legislative process our constitution contemplates. Nevertheless, the record now before us demonstrates that the Legislature has access to the funding it says it needs to continue its legislative functions until it reconvenes in the next regular session. At that time, the Legislature, unconstrained by gubernatorial conditions for a special session, can exercise its constitutional appropriations powers. We, therefore, decline to resolve the question of whether the line-item vetoes violated Article III as unconstitutionally coercive. Based on the analysis that follows, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand to the district court for entry of dismissal.

         FACTS

         This case arises from events that occurred at the end of the 2017 legislative session. By the last day of the 2017 regular session, May 22, 2017, most of the final budget bills for the next biennium-fiscal years 2018-2019-had not been presented to the Governor. As required by the constitution, the Legislature adjourned, choosing to reconvene on February 20, 2018. Sen. Journal, May 22, 2017, at 6101; House Journal, May 22, 2017, at 7022; see Minn. Const. art. IV, § 12 ("The legislature shall not meet in regular session . . . after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May of any year.").

         The Governor, by formal proclamation, called a special session that began at 12:01 a.m. on May 23, 2017. Proclamation for Special Session 2017, 2017 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. 1015; see Minn. Stat. § 4.03 (2016) (requiring the Governor to call a special session "by proclamation"). As noted in the Governor's proclamation, legislative leaders "ha[d] agreed on an agenda and procedure" for the special session. Specifically, legislative leaders and the Governor agreed that the special session would "be confined to the outstanding budget bills and the tax bill, " the bills would be "voted upon or passed by either body within one legislative day, " and the Legislature would "adjourn the Special Session no later than 7:00 a.m. on May 24, 2017."

         The Legislature did not vote upon or pass the outstanding bills within one legislative day and did not adjourn on May 24, 2017. The special session continued until May 25, 2017. On that day, the House "adjourned sine die for the 2017 Special Session, " House Journal, May 25, 2017, at 64; as did the Senate, Sen. Journal, May 25, 2017, at 111 ("[T]he Senate do now adjourn the Special Session sine die."). Bills passed during the special session were presented to the Governor on May 26, 2017.

         One of the bills passed during the special session and presented on May 26 was the state government appropriations bill, Senate File No. 1. In article I, section 14 of this bill, the Legislature appropriated funds to the Department of Revenue for that agency's biennial budget. Act of May 30, 2017, ch. 4, art. 1, § 14, 2017 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. 1409, 1420-23. But the Department of Revenue's appropriation would not be effective "until the day following enactment of . . . House File No. 1." Id. at 1421. House File No. 1 made amendments to a variety of the state's tax laws. Act of May 30, 2017, ch. 1, 2017 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess., at 1017. The parties agree that the effect of article I, section 14 of Senate File No. 1 was that a veto of House File No. 1, the tax bill, would mean there would be no appropriation for the Department of Revenue for the next biennium.

         Section 2 of Senate File No. 1 provided appropriations to the Legislature for each fiscal year (FY) in the next biennium, allocated to the House, Senate, and Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC)[1] as follows:

Senate:

$32.299 million (FY 2018)

$32.105 million (FY 2019)

House:

$32.383 million (FY 2018)

$32.383 million (FY 2019)

LCC:

$17.511 million (FY 2018)

$17.681 million (FY 2019)

         Act of May 30, 2017, ch. 4, art. 1, § 2, 2017 Minn. Laws 1st Spec. Sess. 1409, 1410-11.

         On May 30, 2017, the Governor signed all but one of the bills presented at the end of the 2017 legislative session, [2] including the tax bill, House File No. 1, and the

appropriations bill, Senate File No. 1.[3] In section 2 of Senate File No. 1, however, the Governor line-item vetoed the following provisions:

• Page 2, Line 24: Subd. 2 Senate

32, 299, 000

32, 105, 000

• Page 2, Line 25: Subd. 3 House of Representatives

32, 383, 000

32, 383, 000

S.F. 1, § 2, 90th Minn. Leg. 2017. The Governor did not veto the biennial appropriations of approximately $35 million for the LCC.

         The Governor notified the Senate that he had "line-item veto[ed] the appropriations for the Senate and House of Representatives to bring the Leaders back to the table to negotiate provisions" in three bills that the Governor had just signed and that subsequently became law. Specifically, the Governor said that there were provisions in the "Tax, Education and Public Safety" bills that he could not "accept." He explained to legislative leaders that he "veto[ed] the appropriations for the House and Senate" for the next biennium because the Legislature's "job has not been satisfactorily completed." He offered to call a special session if the Legislature would agree to "remove" or "re-negotiate" the provisions the Governor found objectionable in the Tax, Education, and Public Safety bills stating, "I . . . await your response."

         On June 13, 2017, the Legislature filed a complaint in Ramsey County District Court. In count one, the complaint sought a declaration that the Governor's line-item vetoes were unconstitutional as a violation of the Separation-of-Powers clause in the Minnesota Constitution.[4] In counts two and three, the Legislature sought injunctive or mandamus relief directing the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) to allot the funds that were appropriated to the Legislature in Senate File No. 1 for the 2018-2019 biennium. The district court ordered the parties to show cause on whether the case was justiciable and, if so, why the relief sought in the complaint should or should not be ordered. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, No. 62-CV-17-3601, Order at 2 (Ramsey Cty. Dist. Ct.).

         On June 23, 2017, the Governor and the Legislature stipulated that count one of the Legislature's complaint, which seeks a declaratory judgment, was ripe for decision. They also asked the district court to enter a temporary injunction directing MMB to "take all steps necessary" to fund the Legislature based on "fiscal year 2017 base general fund funding" during the appeal period-defined as completion of all appellate review and issuance of the appellate court's mandate-or until October 1, 2017, whichever occurred first. They agreed that a decision on counts two and three of the Legislature's complaint could be stayed until our final decision in this matter.

         The district court filed an order on the parties' stipulation on June 26, 2017. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, No. 62-CV-17-3601, Order at 1 (Ramsey Cty. Dist. Ct. filed June 26, 2017). The court concluded that count one of the complaint was ripe and that the Legislature had standing to bring the suit. Id. at 6. Relying in part on the temporary funding orders issued by district courts in the Second Judicial District in connection with the government shutdowns in 2001, 2005, and 2011, id. at 5, the court concluded that it was authorized to grant the temporary funding agreed to in the parties' stipulation. Id. at 7-11 (explaining that notwithstanding the limits on appropriation imposed by Minn. Const. art. XI, § 1, " 'when the traditional processes of government have failed, ' 'the rigidity of Article XI' must temporarily yield in favor of the broader constitutional rights of Minnesota's citizenry" (citations omitted)).

         On July 19, 2017, the district court filed an order granting the Legislature's requested declaratory judgment on count one. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, No. 62-CV-17-3601, Order at 1 (Ramsey Cty. Dist. Ct. filed July 19, 2017) ("July 19 order"). The court declared the Governor's line-item vetoes null and void as a violation of the Separation-of-Powers clause in Article III because they "impermissibly prevent[ed] the Legislature from exercising its constitutional powers and duties." Id. at 3. Reasoning that Article III limits the Governor's veto power, id. at 12-13, the court concluded that, by vetoing the appropriations for the Legislature, the Governor's line-item vetoes "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, " id. at 16. The court therefore concluded that the appropriations struck by the Governor's line-item vetoes "became law with the rest of the bill." Id. at 3.

         Judgment was entered on the district court's order on July 20, 2017. On July 31, 2017, to resolve a dispute over the level at which the Legislature would be funded during this appeal, the parties entered into a second stipulation. They agreed that "[d]uring the appeal period, " MMB would "continue to provide funding to the" Legislature based on its "fiscal year 2017 base general fund funding." Either body of the Legislature could "petition the [district] court for funding" beyond that provided by MMB in the event of "extraordinary and unanticipated expenses." The district court adopted this stipulation by order dated July 31, 2017. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, No. 62-CV-17-3601, Stipulation and Order at 2 (Ramsey Cty. Dist. Ct. filed July 31, 2017).

         On July 26, 2017, we granted the Governor's petition for accelerated review. Oral argument was held on August 28, 2017. On September 8, 2017, we ordered the Governor and the Legislature to address the constitutionality of judicially ordered funding for the Legislature, as well as any other potential remedies for vindication of the people's constitutional right to three independent, functioning branches of government. Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, 901 N.W.2d 415, 417 (Minn. 2017) (order). We also directed the parties to apprise us of the funds available to the Legislature going forward. Id. In response they disclosed that, as of September 1, the House had carryover funds of $10, 681, 438.14 and the Senate had carryover funds of $6, 004, 325.94, both from previous appropriations. They agreed that, given the chambers' combined estimated monthly expenses of $5.2 million and current spending rates, the Senate's funds would be exhausted by December 1, 2017, and the House's funds by February 1, 2018.

         We also ordered that the Legislature and the Governor mediate their dispute. Id. On September 22, 2017, the parties advised us that mediation had reached an impasse.

         On September 25, 2017, the Governor amended his previous statement on the Legislature's funding, to include carryover funds available to the LCC from previous appropriations, in the amount of $3, 640, 956.91. The Governor also noted in his amended statement that the FY 2018-2019 appropriations to the LCC, which exceed $35 million, would, if used to fund the Legislature's operations, allow the Legislature to continue functioning until "well after the next legislative session begins." The Legislature disagreed with the "numbers presented by the Governor" and noted that the legality of the Legislature's use of the LCC's carryover funds or FY 2018-2019 appropriations was "untested."

         In an order filed September 28, 2017, we directed the parties to provide information on the carryover funds and appropriations available to the LCC, and the legal authority that would permit the Legislature to use those funds.[5] Ninetieth Minn. State Senate v. Dayton, No. A17-1142, Order at 3-4 (Minn. filed Sept. 28, 2017). In their subsequent disclosures, the parties generally agreed on the funds currently available to the Legislature, which consist of funds carried over by the House and Senate from previous appropriations, funds available to the LCC from carried over funds, [6] and the appropriations to the LCC for the current biennium. The parties also generally agreed that, subject to certain statutory requirements, the Legislature has the discretion to use the carryover funds for the House, the Senate, and the LCC, as well as the discretion to use the biennial appropriations to the LCC.

         ANALYSIS

         The questions raised in this case involve powers the Minnesota Constitution confers on our three branches of government. The interpretation of the constitution is purely legal and thus subject to de novo review. Star Tribune Co. v. Univ. of Minn. Bd. of Regents, 683 N.W.2d 274, 283 (Minn. 2004) ("Issues of constitutional interpretation are questions of law which we review de novo.").

         I.

         We begin with the Governor's line-item veto power, which resides in Article IV of our state constitution, an article that generally addresses the powers of the Legislative Branch. See Minn. Const. art. IV, § 23 ("If a bill presented to the governor contains several items of appropriation of money, he may veto one or more of the items while approving the bill."). Because it is located in the constitutional article that confers legislative powers, we have "narrowly construed" the Executive's line-item veto power "to prevent an unwarranted usurpation by the executive of powers granted" to the Legislature.[7] Inter Faculty Org. v. Carlson, 478 N.W.2d 192, 194 (Minn. 1991).

         In our September 8 interim order, we stated that the Governor's exercise of the power to veto items of the Legislature's appropriations for itself did not violate the plain language of Article IV, Section 23 of the Minnesota Constitution. 901 N.W.2d at 415-16. We explain that conclusion today.

         The plain language of Article IV places only one substantive limit on the line-item veto power, specifically, the requirement that the veto be made as to an "item" of "appropriation." Minn. Const. art. IV, § 23.[8] See State ex rel. Gardner v. Holm, 62 N.W.2d 52, 55 (Minn. 1954) ("[W]here the language used is clear, explicit, and unambiguous . . . and free from obscurity, the courts must give it the ordinary meaning of the words used."). See also Inter Faculty Org., 478 N.W.2d at 194 & n.2 (explaining that the line-item veto power is "a negative authority, not a creative one" because the power is only "to strike" and the power can be exercised only to "delete a specific itemic component or the whole of an appropriation"). Accordingly, we have said that our "focus" is on whether the Governor "has vetoed 'an item of appropriation of money.' " Johnson v. Carlson, 507 N.W.2d 232, 235 (Minn. 1993). And "an item of appropriation of money" is "a separate and identifiable sum of money appropriated from the general fund dedicated to a specific purpose." Inter Faculty Org., 478 N.W.2d at 195.[9] We do not "judge the wisdom of a veto, or the motives behind it"; we ask only whether "the veto meets the constitutional test." Johnson, 507 N.W.2d at 235; see also Duxbury v. Donovan, 138 N.W.2d 692, 704 (Minn. 1965) (declining to "intimate one way or another" whether "the use of the veto in this particular case was or was not prudent").

         The district court found that the Governor's line-item vetoes were applied to an "item of appropriation"-the sums listed in lines 24-25 on page 2 of Senate File No. 1- and those sums were "dedicated to a specific purpose, " funding the Senate and the House in the 2018-2019 biennium. We agree. The line-item vetoes therefore comply with Article IV, Section 23.

         Whether it was wise for the people of Minnesota in 1876 to provide for a veto power over items of appropriations, in language that does not expressly exclude the appropriations for a coordinate branch of government, is not for us to judge. We must follow the plain language of Article IV, Section 23. See, e.g., State ex rel. Gardner, 62 N.W.2d at 63 (noting, based on the plain language of the constitution, that "the governor clearly has the right to veto any bill appropriating money"); see also People ex rel. Millner v. Russel, 142 N.E. 537, 538 (Ill. 1924) (explaining that the Governor's veto authority is "direct, plain, and affords no basis for the construction that . . . appropriations for salaries of officers of the state government were intended to be excepted" even though "the Governor . . . clothed with such power . . . might veto appropriations . . . and thereby suspend the operation of any or all departments of the state government"). Had the framers of the Minnesota Constitution and the people of Minnesota wished to exclude any branch, officer, or agency from the scope of the ...


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