ACLU sues Dunleavy, calls court veto over abortion ruling unconstitutional
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is calling Gov. Mike Dunleavy's veto to the court system over an abortion ruling brazen and vindictive and ultimately hopes a judge will rule it's unconstitutional.
Dunleavy vetoed $334,700 from the appellate courts, citing the Alaska Supreme Court's ruling on government-funded abortions:
"The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction. The Federal Government also prohibits any federal funds paying for elective abortions."
The advocacy group announced its filing of a lawsuit against Dunleavy Wednesday over the move. The cut represents one of Dunleavy's smaller vetoes, but the ACLU warns it could set a dangerous precedent if left unchecked.
Attorney John Kauffman and former Republican legislative aid Bonnie Jack are also plaintiffs.
"For vindictive reasons, our current governor has overstepped his authority in vetoing money to the court system," Jack said during a news conference Wednesday. "The governor has every right to disagree with the judiciary's decisions but has no right to undermine their authority."
ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua Decker said the veto represents an act of retaliation because Dunleavy's personal political views are at odds with the court's ruling, and the lawsuit claims the move violates the separation of powers doctrine.
"This lawsuit is not about your position on a woman's right to choice," he said. "This lawsuit is about the governor illegally politicizing our judiciary."
Requests in the lawsuit include a declaration that Dunleavy's veto over abortion funding is unconstitutional and restoration of the vetoed funds.
"The governor's action is so brazen and so unprecedented," Decker said, claiming the lawsuit is the first of its kind in Alaska. "All of our previous governors knew not to play politics with our judges and so that's why we're suing today."
The lawsuit lists three plaintiffs but echos the sentiments of dozens of attorneys — all women — who signed a letter to the lawmakers asking them to override the veto.
It read in part:
"Allowing this veto to stand would set a precedent that will diminish all our rights by subjecting them to gubernatorial veto—now, and in future administrations. And not only are a woman's most basic fundamental rights threatened, but all rights that Alaskans across the political spectrum hold dear, like gun ownership and religious freedom."
Decker said the plaintiffs will pursue the lawsuit even if the vetoed funds are restored.
"The governor’s actions, if left unchecked, threaten our democracy and the core system of checks and balances and undermines the public trust in the independence and impartiality of our judiciary," he said.
During the campaign, KTVA asked candidate Dunleavy whether he would make cuts to the court system. His answer was "No."
Over the last week and a half, KTVA sent several requests to Dunleavy's office regarding this specific veto and two requests about his statement as a candidate that is now in conflict with his action as governor.
Wednesday, press secretary Matt Shuckerow said the governor will not be commenting due to the now-pending litigation.
Attorney General Kevin Clarkson responded to the lawsuit Thursday with a statement saying the governor has veto power and there is no exception stated in the constitution for appropriations for the court system or Judiciary. He also says the matter is more complicated because the ACLU is asking the courts to rule on a claim that affects their own funding.
"Ironically, by way of its complaint the ACLU proposes to imbalance the separation of powers established by the Alaska Constitution. The ACLU asks the Judiciary to aggrandize its power over the Executive branch by having the Judiciary place itself in the position of controlling how the other two separate and coequal branches of government fund the courts," Clarkson's statement read.
Since Dunleavy took office in December, he and his administration have been sued at least seven times, beginning with a pair of suits filed by former employees.
In separate suits, former Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar and two Alaska Psychiatric Institute physicians in January sued Dunleavy and Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock, alleging an illegal termination.
In April, the Alaska State Employees Association sued Dunleavy, alleging his administration violated contract law by bringing in a private company. The state later announced it would open the second phase of a contract with Wellpath Recovery Solutions once a feasibility study is complete.
In May an education nonprofit sued Dunleavy over his withholding $20 million in education funding lawmakers approved last year for the 2018-2019 school year. Dunleavy ultimately released the money after lawmakers adjourned from its first special session.
On Tuesday, Dunleavy got hit with another suit. Two Anchorage attorneys sued Dunleavy for calling a special session in Wasilla. The Legislature had been split over where to hold the session with a majority agreeing to meet in Juneau.
Also, that day, the Legislature sued Dunleavy over education funding. Lawmakers believe they took care of this year's funding for public education under House Bill 287, but Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said that kind of forward funding violates the constitution.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
MORE NEWS FROM KTVA: