Joshua Decker, center, director of the ACLU of Alaska, speaks at a press conference with Bonnie Jack, left, and John Kauffman on Wednesday, in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

Joshua Decker, center, director of the ACLU of Alaska, speaks at a press conference with Bonnie Jack, left, and John Kauffman on Wednesday, in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

ACLU of Alaska sues Gov. Dunleavy over court budget veto

Dunleavy’s reduction to court system budget was tied to an Alaska Supreme Court decision on abortion.

  • Wednesday, July 17, 2019 11:31pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A civil rights watchdog sued Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday over his budget veto of money for the state court system.

The ACLU of Alaska claims Dunleavy’s reduction of the Alaska Court System budget by $334,700 is an attack on the independent judiciary.

“Gov. Dunleavy is punishing the court for exercising its judicial power,” said executive director Joshua Decker at a news conference. “He’s threatening the court with further budget reductions if it makes decisions with which he disagrees. He’s improperly trying to influence the court and erode its independence.”

A spokesman for Dunleavy, Matt Shuckerow, did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Dunleavy last month vetoed more than $400 million from the budget approved by the Alaska Legislature, including $130 million from the University of Alaska.

Dunleavy’s reduction to the court system budget was tied to an Alaska Supreme Court decision on abortion.

“The Legislative 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. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction,” Dunleavy’s budget office wrote in the veto document.

The court this year struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for Medicaid funding.

Dunleavy’s veto is a grossly inappropriate attempt to use money to coerce judges to a political end, Decker said, and it undermines the public trust in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must be free and independent or all our rights will become hostage to the will of whoever incites the passion of the masses during each election cycle,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, Bonnie Jack, a former Republican legislative staffer, and John Kauffman, a private attorney.

Jack said Dunleavy overstepped his authority for vindictive reasons.

Kauffman said he took an oath to uphold the Alaska Constitution. The governor’s vetoes were levied to punish the courts for doing what the courts were created to do, he said.

“That’s a blatant violation of the separation of powers, which is a cornerstone of our constitution and the United States Constitution,” Kauffman said.

The governor’s action is unprecedented in Alaska, Decker said. The lawsuit seeks to have court funding restored and the governor’s actions declared unconstitutional, Decker said. He’s not worried about a conflict of interest by judges handling the case.

“When our judges put on the black robe, they take an oath to honestly and impartially decide the case in front of them based on what the law and the constitution is,” he said.


• By Dan Joling, Associated Press


More in News

Vehicles are unleaded at the Seward Harbor after being moved from Lowell Point on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Seward, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)
Lowell Point barge services move 110-plus cars to Seward

The services were covered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and ended Monday

Anglers fish on the Kenai River on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Watershed Forum receives matching grant from Conoco

The Kenai Watershed Forum was given a grant from ConocoPhillips to fund… Continue reading

A beach on the eastern side of Cook Inlet is photographed at Clam Gulch, Alaska, in June 2019. The Alaska Board of Fisheries is implementing new shellfish regulations in Cook Inlet. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Fish and Game closes East Cook Inlet razor clam fisheries

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the Cook Inlet… Continue reading

Anastasia Scollon (left) and Willow King (right) stand in The Goods + Sustainable Grocery and Where it’s At mindful food and drink on Monday, May 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sustainable shopping finds new home in Soldotna

The Collective used to operate out of Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Most Read