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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Maine Governor LePage has "misread" the Maine Constitution says state's court

Gov. Paul LePage talked tabout his veto messages as he left the Maine State House on July 16. He indicated in interviews, before the Supreme Judicial Court ruling, that he will not enforce the 65 laws he vetoed after the 10 day window expired, and would seek additional relief in court to block their implementation. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Well, guess what happens now?  

There's little doubt, the outcome of today's Maine Supreme Court ruling about Governor LePage "misreading" the state's Constitution, about when the legislature is adjourned (or just in recess) will lead to his resignation.  

Maine cannot support a chief executive who misreads the state's Constitution, for his own purposes.  Today's state Suspreme Court ruling is especially difficult for LePage, because he has taken an oath to protect and uphold what's written in the state's Constitution. "Misreading" the document is simply not allowed.

Maine's High Court Spurns LePage, is today's headline in the Kennebec Journal.  By Steve Mistler

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court says the governor misread the Maine Constitution as it rules in favor of the Legislature in a dispute over 65 new laws.

Maine’s top court has ruled unanimously against Gov. Paul LePage in his dispute with the Legislature over whether he has more time to veto 65 bills already processed into law, delivering a significant blow to a governor already engulfed in withering criticism and scrutiny seven months into his second term.

The court’s advisory opinion ruled that the governor misread the Maine Constitution when he failed to veto 65 bills within the 10-day period prescribed by law. LePage’s legal team argued that the Legislature prevented the governor from returning the vetoes because lawmakers had temporarily adjourned. However, the ruling by six of the seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected that reasoning. (The seventh justice recused himself and did not participate in the proceedings.)

In its essence, the 55-page opinion asserted that while the constitutional language describing a situation that prevents the governor from returning bills is ambiguous, the Legislature determines when it’s in session and when it adjourns, not the governor.

“It follows that the Governor’s authority to object to legislation, to communicate those objections to the Legislature, and to require the Legislature to consider and act upon those objections must not be limited or infringed upon,” the court wrote. “In counterbalance, because the Executive (the governor) is not endowed in American democracy with absolute veto power, the Legislature must be able to anticipate and act upon the Governor’s objections and, where it determines it appropriate, override those objections.”

The advisory opinion by the court is a victory for the Legislature, which has repeatedly clashed with the Republican governor in disputes both personal and political. 

LePage indicated in interviews before the ruling that he will not enforce the 65 laws and would seek additional relief to block their implementation in court. The opinion by the state’s top court will likely hinder such efforts.

The 65 bills in question cover a wide range of policy areas, including General Assistance for asylum seekers, expanded use of a medication to treat drug overdoses, property tax breaks for Vietnam War veterans and birth control for MaineCare recipients.

The political dispute between LePage and the Legislature over whether he filed 65 vetoes on time has raged since July, when the governor did not act on 19 bills after the July 4 holiday. Top leaders in the Legislature immediately declared that the bills had become law while nonpartisan staff began writing the bills into law. LePage, leaning on his theory that he had more time to issue vetoes, then allowed another 52 bills to become law. He attempted to veto 65 of the 71 bills when the Legislature reconvened July 16. However, the Republican-controlled Secretary of the Senate and the Democratic-controlled House Clerk, rejected the governor’s veto messages.

The governor then sought an intervention from the Maine Supreme Judicial Courtthrough what’s known as a solemn occasion. Republican Senate President Micheal Thibodeau and House Speaker Mark Eves later hired an attorney to argue that the Legislature had followed precedent and law through its adjournment orders and rejection of the governor’s vetoes.

The Legislature’s position was backed by Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat.Mills issued an advisory opinion July 10 stating that the 19 bills that the governor originally failed to veto had become law.

The parties participated in oral arguments last Friday before a crowd of over 100 observers and media. During oral arguments, justices quickly challenged Cynthia Montgomery’s assertion that the Legislature’s recess prevented LePage from returning vetoes.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley noted that LePage and previous governors have filed vetoes while the Legislature is not in session. Justice Ellen Gorman sharply questioned Montgomery’s contention that poor communication between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office was behind the confusion on when the clock had begun to tick on the 10-day veto period, noting affidavits showing that legislative clerks had been in communication with the Governor’s Office in the days after lawmakers adjourned on June 30, to make the administration aware that the clerks were available to receive the vetoes in the lawmakers’ absence.

There is no way Governor Paul LePage can continue to govern when he has misread the Constitution and caused the state's highest court to rule so decisively against his poor judgement.

Governor LePage will resign and the sooner the better.

This story will be updated.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

Twitter: @stevemistler

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