ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) – The Minnesota Supreme Court determined on Nov. 16 that Minnesota Gov. Mark B. Dayton did not violate the state’s constitution when he exercised his line-item veto power on appropriations made by the Legislature in its biennial budget.

“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,’” writes Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea in the Nov. 16 opinion. Because the vetoes were applied to an “item of appropriation,” the court found they comply with Article IV.

The court expedited the case, which had been brought against the governor by the Minnesota Legislature on June 13 in Ramsey County District Court. The Legislature argued that by exercising his line-item vetoes concerning funds allotted to the Legislature, he had violated the Minnesota Constitution’s separation-of-powers clause.

The district court filed its order on July 19, declaring the vetoes a violation of the state’s constitution, and therefore null and void. 

Upon de novo review, however, the Supreme Court did not agree with this interpretation. According to Gildea’s written opinion, the court exercised “judicial restraint” in reaching its decision, as the lawsuit pitted two branches of government, legislative and executive, against each other.

The court determined that the line-item vetoes did not violate Article IV as the Legislature contended. 

The Legislature also argued that the governor’s vetoes violated Article III of the state’s constitution, the separation of powers. According to Gildea’s opinion, the Legislature claimed that the veto “over the Legislature’s appropriations for the House and Senate effectively abolished the Legislature by depriving it of the funding needed to perform ‘constitutionally mandated core functions.’”

However, because the Legislature conceded that it has access to funds needed to continue functioning until the next regular session, the court did not agree that the vetoes had effectively abolished the Legislature. It declined to decide on the Legislature’s argument that the vetoes were unconstitutionally coercive under Article III, however, pointing out that the constitution offers a process to resolve such disputes outside of the courtroom.

Justice G. Barry Anderson offered a dissenting opinion, arguing that “this is not the occasion for judicial restraint.” He agreed that Article IV allows the governor authority to perform line-item vetoes, but holds that those vetoes in this case violate Article III’s guarantee of separation of powers, and are therefore unconstitutional.

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