AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage, legislative leaders, the attorney general and several advocacy groups made their cases to the state’s highest court Friday, submitting detailed legal briefs in a dispute over whether 65 bills are in law or vetoed.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will consider the written briefs ahead of oral arguments scheduled for next week.
The arguments ran parallel to those the two sides have been making since a conflict erupted earlier this month over dozens of bills the governor intended to veto. LePage delivered 65 vetoed bills July 16 when the Legislature returned from a two-week recess but House and Senate leaders rejected the vetoes as out of order, saying the governor missed his deadline to nix the initiatives and the bills had already become law.
In his brief, LePage contended that by leaving Augusta June 30 and not returning until mid-July, the Legislature prevented him from acting on the bills and delivering them to lawmakers within the 10-day window the Maine Constitution allows for him to exercise his veto authority.
In LePage’s brief, the governor’s legal team, led by chief legal counsel Cynthia Montgomery, characterized the recess as an error by lawmakers, and urged the justices to rule the vetoes legitimate.
“The Governor comes before this court not seeking to ‘win’ while the other side ‘loses,’” the brief stated. “The governor seeks answers to questions that arose as a result of legislative missteps, due in part, perhaps, to the antagonistic tone toward the end of the legislative session. The remedy the governor seeks is as reasonable as the veto procedure he chose: that the House and Senate consider his vetoes and either vote to override them or vote to sustain them.”
The case is largely pedantic, hinging on the various definitions of “adjournment” and the usually non-controversial constitutional and statutory provisions that dictate when the governor can and cannot veto bills.
Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, submitted a brief on behalf of the Maine Legislature. In it, they rejected LePage’s claim that he was in any way “prevented” from returning the vetoes while lawmakers were away.
Senate Secretary Heather Priest and Assistant House Clerk Jennifer McGowan signed affidavits stating both their offices were willing and able to accept the governor’s vetoes during the normal 10-day period.
“Even though the Legislature was not actively meeting after June 30 and before July 16, at no time during that period was the governor prevented from returning the bills” as required by the state constitution, Eves and Thibodeau’s lawyer, Timothy Woodcock, wrote.
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, along with assistant GOP leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester and Rep. Jeff TImberlake, R-Turner, said Eves and Thibodeau’s brief did not reflect their view.
The trio submitted a separate brief, which echoed the arguments made by LePage. Republicans in the Legislature are particularly keen for LePage to win the legal battle, as a victory by the governor would give them an opportunity to sustain his vetoes and kill several bills opposed by GOP lawmakers.
Fredette and his colleagues said that by rejecting LePage’s vetoes as out of order, the presiding officers of the House and Senate had aggrieved their fellow lawmakers by not letting them cast override votes.
“The members of the House presenting this brief urge this honorable court to allow the democratic process to play out,” their attorney, L. Clinton Boothby wrote. “The people of this great state sent their legislators to Augusta to deliberate and cast votes.”
Attorney General Janet Mills and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine also submitted briefs, as did a collection of health organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Maine Family Planning, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center, Maine Primary Care Association and Maine Nurse Practitioner Association.
All the above individuals and organizations sided with the Legislature and urged the court to uphold the disputed laws.
The court has set a deadline of noon Wednesday for response briefs, and will hear oral arguments from the governor and the Legislature Friday, July 31.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.