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Alaska Supreme Court backs Gov. Dunleavy in dispute with Legislature over appointments to state boards

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: 3 days ago
  • Published 3 days ago

JUNEAU — Dozens of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s picks for state boards and commissions served legally in December and January, the Alaska Supreme Court said Thursday, ending a dispute between the Legislature and the governor.

The decision overturns a lower-court ruling in favor of the Legislature and negates the possibility that the relevant board members took actions without legal authority.

“It’s always good when the Alaska Supreme Court clarifies the Constitution,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Stevens was chairman of the House-Senate committee that authorized the lawsuit against the governor.

“This decision addressed whether the governor could lawfully extend the appointments of individuals who were not confirmed by the Legislature by a December 2020 deadline until the start of the new legislative session, and now we know that he can,” Stevens said.

In a written statement, Attorney General-designee Treg Taylor said he was pleased by the decision and thanked state attorneys for their work. On social media, Dunleavy also said he was pleased.

Thursday’s order rendered part of state law unconstitutional. That law, in place since 1964, says that if the Legislature fails to vote on an appointment before the end of the legislative session, the appointee is automatically rejected.

Now, lawmakers must actively vote to reject an appointee.

Last year, because of COVID-19, lawmakers failed to meet in joint session to vote on Dunleavy’s appointees. Instead, they inserted a provision within the state’s COVID emergency law that said the governor’s appointees were valid until 30 days after the emergency expired.

The emergency expired in November, and while some provisions were extended until February by subsequent declarations by the governor, those subsequent orders didn’t affect the prior law.

In December, the Legislature sued the governor, claiming he was improperly keeping his appointees on duty. In January, after the start of the current legislative session, the governor formally reappointed many of the officials whose status had been questioned. That left only a narrow window — between Dec. 15 and Jan. 16 — of uncertainty.

In February, a Juneau Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Legislature’s interpretation of the law: It was not proper to have those appointees serve during that December-January window.

The governor appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard verbal arguments earlier this week and issued a brief order on Thursday. A longer legal opinion will be published later.

Through a spokesman, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the Senate is targeting the week of April 19 for a joint session to confirm this year’s appointees.

He said the Senate will work with the House to finalize that date.