ACLU of Alaska challenges Governor’s second unconstitutional veto of court system funds

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
July 15, 2020 2:00 pm

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ANCHORAGE – The ACLU of Alaska filed a legal challenge to Governor Dunleavy’s latest veto of court system funding after he doubled down on his unprecedented 2019 attack on the judiciary in retaliation for a court ruling at odds with his own personal beliefs.

For the second year in a row, Governor Michael Dunleavy violated the Constitution, and the separation of powers, by slashing the court’s budget by $334,700 after an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that found the state was unfairly excluding Medicaid recipients’ access to abortion services.

“It is the court’s constitutional duty to uphold the law, not to appease the agenda of a politician,” ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff said. “Such actions from the Executive Branch jeopardize the strength of its coequal branches of government, and subsequently our ability to function as a democratic society. Without the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, we cannot call ourselves a democracy.”

Governor Dunleavy’s April 7, 2020 line-item veto for FY 21, which began on July 1, 2020, was for the same amount as the year before, when the Governor wrote in his “statement of objections”: “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.”

In February 2019, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld low-income women’s right to access abortion. 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.  

The ACLU of Alaska filed its initial lawsuit in July 2019 on behalf of its members and Alaskans Bonnie Jack and John Kauffman. Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson rejected the State’s challenge to the plaintiffs’ standing after oral arguments in November. A decision on the merits of the lawsuit is pending.

The ACLU of Alaska amended its initial complaint on Monday, July 13, to include a challenge to the Governor’s second year of attacks against the courts, the Constitution, and women’s healthcare.

“This brazen action from the Governor violates a core principal of our democracy but is also an attempt to push abortion out of women’s reach. As we have seen across the nation, attacks to women’s healthcare most greatly affect women of color, low-income women, and young people,” ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua Decker said. “A woman’s decision to become a parent or not, is not a decision for politicians to interfere with. It is a politician’s job to make sure every person has access to safe and reliable healthcare.”

The amended complaint can be found here.

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