State restores court funding after unconstitutional attacks on the separation of powers.
2020 and 2021 have been hard years. From President Trump to Governor Dunleavy, we've seen our elected servants try to shred the core tenets and fundamental fabric of our democratic republic.
We've long said that freedom can't protect itself and that the Constitution's guarantees can't just be parchment promises. America is both an idea and an ideal, and it requires all of "We the People" to do our part to make our home into its "more perfect union."
So, I'm thrilled to announce we won our case to defend the Constitution's fundamental system of checks and balances, and to hold Alaska's top official accountable for his brazen and repeated attacks on our state. Two years after we sued Governor Michael J. Dunleavy for retaliating against Alaska's courts for upholding their Constitutional oath and illegally vetoing $334,700 from their budget, we conclusively won: the courts' money has been restored, Governor Dunleavy's vetoes were declared unconstitutional, and he's not going to appeal.
We brought this lawsuit because, in 2019, the Governor used his line-item veto to punish the courts for an Alaska Supreme Court decision that protects low-income women's right to choose whether they want to be a parent. He slashed $334,700 from the courts' 2020–21 budget, explaining that his cut was in retaliation for the Alaska Supreme Court's ruling in State vs. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. Then for the courts' 2021–22 budget, he doubled down and vetoed the same amount again, for the same punitive, illegal reason.
And, after hundreds of hours of lawyers' time, and thousands upon thousands of taxpayers' dollars spent by the Alaska Department of Law to defend his unconstitutional acts, the Alaska Superior Court ruled in October that Governor Dunleavy violated the Alaska Constitution's separation of powers and the integrity of our state's independent judiciary. Then finally, last month, the Judge ordered the Governor to return the vetoed $334,700 to the courts by January 4, which he did without appealing to the Supreme Court.
We're proud of our win, but we would have been happier if we hadn't had to sue in the first place. It's wrong that Governor Michael J. Dunleavy used his personal views about abortion to threaten the independence of Alaska's judges.
This case was about protecting the Alaska Constitution's separation of powers guarantee and holding our government accountable when it fails to serve the people, and when it undermines the principles of our nation – principles that make us safe, equal, and free.
Freedom can't protect itself and the Constitution's promises aren't self-executing: that's why we have the ACLU. Thank you so much for your support throughout this process. With your help, we were able to set a precedent that in Alaska, might doesn't make right, and holding a powerful position does not allow you to break the law and threaten peoples' rights without consequence. With your help, we defended American democracy, and now more than ever, that's a victory for all of us.
Pronouns: He, him, his
Executive Director, ACLU of Alaska