After the Maine legislature rejected his vetoes of some 65 bills, Gov. Paul LePage (R) turned to the state Supreme Court on Friday for a final determination of whether he botched the veto process. The move sends the controversy from the legislative arena to the legal one, where a decision against LePage from the state’s highest court would deal him and his leadership a humiliating blow.
“Now that the Legislature has refused to consider the vetoes, my constitutional duty as Governor to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ is in question,” LePage wrote in the request to the court. “I must know whether my vetoes stand.”
LePage did not file a lawsuit, but instead is proceeding under a section of the Maine constitution that empowers the state Supreme Court to issue opinions on important questions of state law. “The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court shall be obliged to give their opinion upon important questions of law, and upon solemn occasions, when required by the Governor, Senate or House of Representatives,” reads Article VI, Section 3 of the state constitution. (Read LePage’s letter to the Supreme Court below.)
At issue is whether the legislature adjourned last month in such a way that it extended the governor’s usual 10-day period for vetoing a bill. Lawmakers from both parties, the clerks of each chamber, and the state attorney general contend that LePage botched the vetoes by not acting within the 10-day window and that the bills automatically became law. They argue that the legislature had not formally adjourned — sine die, to use the Latin — but merely recessed.
The custom and practice of previous governors also suggests LePage is in the wrong, but the diehard tea party governor, who had been vetoing bills at an unprecedented rate in a punitive strike at the legislature even before the latest controversy, insists he is properly exercising his veto power. What at first looked like a botched pocket veto was not an attempted pocket veto at all, LePage’s office has claimed, but a calculated move on his part.
LePage argues that the adjournment of the legislature gave him until the next time the legislature reconvened to veto the bills. Accordingly, LePage submitted the vetoes when the legislature reconvened Thursday, but they were refused by the House and Senate, prompting LePage to seek a Supreme Court opinion on the matter.
In his letter to the Court, LePage asks it to consider three questions:
It’s not yet clear what procedure the court will follow in responding to LePage’s request for an opinion. “A spokeswoman for the court indicated this week that the justices may seek legal briefs laying out both sides of the argument,” the Portland Press Herald reported.
The Democratic speaker of the Maine House, Mark Eves, said in a statement Friday that LePage’s move was nothing but “legal gymnastics” and urged quick action by the court. “When the Governor missed his deadline to veto the bills, they became law, in accordance with the constitution, history and precedent,” Eves said. “The delay in enforcing these laws will only hurt the people who sent us to Augusta to represent them.”