Anchorage judge hears case on governor's court system abortion funding veto

Published: Nov. 5, 2019 at 9:05 PM AKST
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An Anchorage Superior Court judge will decide if a case should continue looking into the legitimacy of one of the governor’s vetoes.

In June, Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut roughly $334,000 from the budget of the Alaska Supreme Court. The stated reasoning behind the veto was because of decisions the courts had made to allow state funding for so-called “elective abortions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska sued, arguing that the governor was unconstitutionally punishing the judiciary for a decision he didn’t like and threatening the independence of the courts.

On Tuesday, oral arguments were heard in Boney Courthouse as the State of Alaska filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Jessica Leeah, an attorney for the State of Alaska, argued that the governor had a right to use his line-item veto power and that the courts had not been harmed by the cuts. She said that judges had continued making adverse decisions against the Dunleavy administration, proving the system’s independence.

Leeah also questioned how the ACLU of Alaska had standing in the case to claim harm by the veto and suggested another plaintiff such as a court employee would be more appropriate.

Her argument also hinged on whether this case would inevitably politicize the judiciary. She asked for Judge Jennifer Henderson to “exercise judicial restraint” and avoid jumping into politics by allowing the case to move forward.

Stephen Koteff, representing the ACLU of Alaska, hit back, saying the governor’s decision to veto the court system’s funding was unprecedented and a “blatant act of retaliation against the judiciary.”

On the question of whether the plaintiffs had standing, Koteff said that Dunleavy’s decision is a separation-of-powers issue that strikes at a woman’s right to choose. He asked: “How can it be argued that is not a matter of public significance?”

Outside the courthouse, a few dozen people gathered to oppose the governor's veto.

"This governor has never had any shame for his extreme position on safe, legal abortion," said Jessica Cler, the Alaska State director of Planned Parenthood. "The fact he cut the state court system's budget purely because they uphold the law and the state's Constitution is frankly spiteful, even for him."

A counter protest took place a few feet away with some people opposing abortions all together while others came to show support for the governor.

Judy Eledge, a board member of the Anchorage Republican Women's Club, stood with protesters but said she was there representing herself. She said the governor's veto did not stop safe, legal abortions but she didn't believe that "the citizens of Alaska should have to pay for them."

Eledge also defended the governor's line-item veto power, saying that it was in the Alaska Constitution and was his right and authority.

After oral arguments, Henderson said she would present a written decision on whether to accept the state’s motion to dismiss the case. She did not say when that decision would be made.

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