AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - The Maine Supreme Court ruled last week that Gov. Paul LePage indeed missed a deadline to veto 65 bills.
Last month, LePage asked the state’s high court for an opinion regarding the status of the bills that he claimed to veto on July 16.
The state Legislature and Attorney General Janet Mills -- who has been at odds with LePage in recent months -- argued the bills already became law because the governor missed the deadline for returning the bills.
The Supreme Court said in its 49-page ruling that following the 10 days provided for “gubernatorial objection,” the bills that were not returned to the house of origination with LePage’s objections became law.
Under the Maine Constitution, a governor has longer than 10 days to veto bills when the Legislature’s adjournment prevents a bill’s return.
“We are acutely aware that our conclusions will render ineffective the Governor’s objections to 65 bills -- a result that we do not take lightly,” Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wrote for a unanimous court.
“Nonetheless, in exercising the authority of the Judicial Branch to respond to an inquiry from the Executive Branch, we are guided by the need for certainty in, and confirmation of, the constitutionally-identified process that has been employed in Maine for so many years.”
LePage submitted a request for the court’s opinion July 17, saying he “must know whether my vetoes stand.”
The governor said he was prevented from returning the bills to their houses of origin when the Legislature adjourned on June 30 with no firm date set to reconvene, or sine die.
LePage argued this triggered a constitutional provision that a governor could hold the bills until the Legislature reconvened for three consecutive days.
He then returned the bills to their houses of origin on July 16, the earliest opportunity he could return them after the Legislature’s adjournment.
Both the House Speaker and Senate President refused to consider the vetoes, arguing that both chambers had set a return date for the purpose of voting to override or sustain LePage’s vetoes.
“This was not about winning or losing; it was about doing things right,” LePage said last week.
“We are fortunate to be able to seek legal opinions from the Judicial Branch, and we’re thankful the justices came to a fast and fair resolution to this issue. We look forward to moving on and continuing to work for the Maine people.”
Mills said she was pleased with the court’s “full and complete” responses.
“The opinion of the justices is on all fours with all the research conducted by our office and with the opinion of the attorney general of July 10, 2015,” she said. “We are also pleased that the court ruled expeditiously so as to avoid any further unnecessary debate and confusion.”
The attorney general continued, “The answers to the governor’s questions are clear, unambiguous and completely consistent with his own past practice and with that of every other governor in recent memory.
“Except when the Legislature has adjourned sine die, the chief executive has 10 days (excluding Sundays) within which to return any bills with his objections. By his failure to do so, he has forfeited the right to veto any of the bills at issue.”
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.