An Alaska Superior Court judge in Anchorage ruled Friday that it was unconstitutional for Gov. Mike Dunleavy to have vetoed money in 2019 and again in 2020 from the Alaska Court System over an abortion ruling that he disagreed with.
The 16-page opinion written by Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson said the veto violated the separation of powers clause in the Alaska Constitution and was a "threat against judicial independence."
The lawsuit that led to the ruling was originally filed in July of 2019 by the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union after the governor vetoed the funding the first time.
The ruling that sparked Dunleavy's move to veto the funding was a February 2019 court decision against a 2014 legislative move to prohibit state Medicaid dollars from funding abortions.
That summer, Dunleavy vetoed $334,700 from the courts, identifying in a budget veto line that he was stripping the exact amount from the courts that was used to fund abortions in the previous fiscal year. That line would later come back to haunt the governor.
The ACLU quickly filed suit over the retaliatory line-item veto, and Friday's Superior Court ruling backed that up.
ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff celebrated the ruling in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
“This victory protects every Alaskan because it protects the integrity of the state’s judiciary," Koteff said. "There should never be a time when the courts rule to appease a political party, or a politician — even if their title says Governor. It is the courts’ responsibility to weigh the facts and law of each case, and those alone. That is what the court has done today."
The Alaska Department of Law noted in a statement Friday that the governor disagrees with the ruling and that the department is exploring options for an appeal.
"Despite the governor’s strong constitutional veto power, the superior court concluded the Governor’s vetoes of $334,000 from the court system’s FY2020 and FY2021 budgets violated the separation of powers recognized by the Alaska Constitution," the statement reads. "The court found, however, that the vetoes did not constitute a reallocation of appropriations in violation of Article II, section 15 of the Alaska Constitution."
Henderson's ruling voided the cut made to the courts in this current fiscal year. The ACLU's request that the money vetoed in 2019 be restored was rejected, with Henderson citing that the request was no longer applicable as that fiscal year has concluded.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.