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Minn. High Court Tosses Shutdown Spending Lawsuit

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit from Republican state senators who argued that a district court lacked authority to order continued state spending during last summer’s government shutdown.

Six of the seven high court justices agreed that the question is moot because the July shutdown lasted only 20 days. Justice Alan Page dissented, saying the court should settle the question once and for all. He noted the state came close to a shutdown in 2001, had one in 2005 and again in 2011.

“Although I share the court’s hope that the other branches of government will ‘put mechanisms in place that would ensure that the district court is not again called upon to authorize expenditures by executive branch agencies in the absence of legislative appropriations,’ I do not share its optimism,” Page wrote, quoting the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

Republican Sen. Warren Limmer and colleagues had sued to block the court-ordered spending on items a judge ruled essential to preserving the health and safety of citizens. The senators argued that only the executive and legislative branches of state government have the authority to order spending of state dollars. When the lawsuit was not resolved before the end of the shutdown, the justices ordered the plaintiffs to show why the matter should not be considered moot.

In the ruling Wednesday, the majority said they failed to do so. “The constitutional questions posed by this case … will not arise again unless the legislative and executive branches fail to agree on a budget to fund a future biennium,” Gildea wrote. She also noted lawmakers could pass legislation to avoid future shutdowns by maintaining state spending at a previous level, as some lawmakers have suggested.

Page suggested that was putting too much faith in the governor and state lawmakers, and put the state at risk of future constitutional crises.

“Once the judicial branch is perceived to be part of the political process, we have put at risk the independence of the judiciary,” he wrote.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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