In light of health and safety measures taken by the Alaska Court System in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the April 15 oral argument in the ACLU of Alaska’s lawsuit against Governor Michael J. Dunleavy has been vacated. Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson is expected to rule without holding any further hearings.
“Ordinarily, we would prefer the courts hold argument as scheduled. However, these are not ordinary times. We recognize that the limitations placed on our legal system have been implemented in the interest of public health, and we’re also aware that such measures burden the Courts,” ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff said.
In the ACLU of Alaska’s March 31 response, Koteff expressed the importance of resolving the litigation quickly, since we have asked the court to order a return of the vetoed funds to the court system before the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30.
“Waiting too long would weaken or completely undermine the effectiveness of this remedy, and at this point, no one can be certain when conditions that would allow argument to be held will return,” he wrote.
On Friday, Koteff submitted additional briefing in support of the ACLU of Alaska’s motion for summary judgment, further demonstrating how Governor Dunleavy blatantly breached the separation of powers, and gravely jeopardized the independence of the Alaska judiciary when he issued a line-item veto of $334,700 in retaliation for the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.
In that case, Planned Parenthood—represented by a team that included the ACLU—challenged on equal protection grounds the constitutionality of a state statute and regulation that limited what abortions could be considered “medically necessary” to be eligible for Medicaid reimbursement. In February 2019, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the challenged statute and regulation violated the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution.
In the Governor’s “statement of objections” that accompanied the June veto, he said: “The Legislature 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.”
“This case is unprecedented, but it is not complex,” Koteff said. “Governor Dunleavy’s message was clear; he was punishing the courts for weighing the law instead of his political agenda. Our democracy cannot afford to allow this sort of brazen behavior from an elected official, who took an oath to protect the inherent values this country was built on.”
The ACLU of Alaska is hopeful that Judge Henderson will rule expeditiously, however there is no set date for the Court’s ruling.