Judge Says Dayton Wrong When He ‘Effectively Abolished The Legislature’

A judge reached all the way to the Federalist Papers of 1787 to conclude Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton violated the state Constitution when he vetoed state House and Senate funding last spring.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” James Madison wrote in arguing in favor of the separation of powers doctrine that soon became the basis for the U.S. Constitution and was key in the Wednesday, July 19, Minnesota court decision.

Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann ruled Dayton violated that doctrine when he vetoed most legislative funding. The judge said that action “effectively abolished the Legislature.”

While Dayton’s veto would have been proper had he rejected the budget if he objected to its size, Guthmann said, the governor cast the line-item veto to get leverage for the Legislature to overturn some provisions in a new law he signed. He never objected to the $130 million legislative budget.

Republicans who control the Legislature were delighted with Guthmann’s ruling, but Dayton said he will appeal it to the state Supreme Court.

The judge wrote that lawmakers and their staffs have a right to be paid, and supplies and office buildings need appropriate funding. Without the money that Dayton vetoed, legislators cannot do their jobs of preparing bills, conducting hearings and other “core functions” of their jobs, Guthmann said.

Guthmann made it clear that he was uncomfortable being referee between the other two branches of government. “Unfortunately, the court must step in political quicksand whichever way it rules.”

The judge quoted Madison. “In framing a government … the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

GOP legislative leaders were happy with the court decision.

“Minnesotans won today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, declared on the Capitol steps.


Before Dayton announced his plan to appeal, Senate Majority Leader Paul. Gazelka, R-Nisswa, agreed with the speaker: “The governor should accept this verdict and allow the people of Minnesota to move on, instead of continuing to waste taxpayer dollars on expensive litigation. However, if he chooses to appeal, we will continue to defend Minnesotans’ constitutional rights to locally elected representation all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The governor called Wednesday’s court ruling “only a preliminary step in this case’s judicial process.”

“I will continue to fight for fiscally sound budgets and policies that benefit all Minnesotans,” Dayton said.

He said the five provisions he wants changed are fiscally irresponsible. “I have worked hard to restore sound fiscal integrity to our state government. My line-item veto was targeted to achieve this result.”

After the 2017 legislative session, which ended in late May, Dayton vetoed money to fund legislators and their staffs. He said it was in protest of a tactic lawmakers used to ensure that he sign a tax-cutting bill, and to give him leverage to demand they make changes in that bill.

Democrat Dayton signed the tax bill, but wanted lawmakers to reverse five provisions when he called them back into a special session to restore legislative branch funding.

However, the Republican-controlled Legislature sued Dayton, saying he did not have authority to shut it down.

Guthmann earlier had ordered the Legislature to be funded during the court proceedings.

Daudt said he was disappointed Dayton decided to appeal. Before Dayton made that decision, Daudt said it was time for the two of them to improve relations.

“I’m willing to start fresh,” said Daudt, who added the two have not talked lately. “I have not been very happy with the governor.”

Daudt said a separate case dealing with giving lawmakers a raise that the judge also killed likely will arise again, this time with lawmakers suing. The initial suit had no lawmaker involvement, which might be necessary for a suit to be successful, the speaker said.

The speaker refused to allow representatives to get raises from their current $31,140 to $45,000, as required by a commission voters established last November. He said that he will not force his members to approve the raise.

Gazelka, however, said the raises were constitutionally required and he allowed them to go through for senators.

Daudt said he would not be part of a lawsuit to decide on a pay raise, but “It would be good for the courts to tell us” if the raises are constitutionally mandated.