Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

The people win as Minnesota’s top court tells Dayton and GOP to go back and do their jobs

I’m not a lawyer. Aside from some basic principles I’ve picked up from business law and life in general along the way, I can’t tell you how judges think about complex issues. Nevertheless I kind of predicted the recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision regarding Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the legislative budget.

Paul Udstrand

Republicans who are in control of the Minnesota Legislature initially passed a number of budget and education bills (10 in all) that Dayton quickly vetoed. After Republicans failed to negotiate budget legislation that Dayton would sign during the regular legislative session, they made a “deal” with the governor during a special session. Dayton called the special session, and the Legislature passed the negotiated bills, but Republicans added a bunch of stuff they had agreed not to add into the final tax bill. Dayton has successfully used his veto authority several times during his administration. In order to inoculate against a veto, Republicans built in a provision that would eliminate funding for the Department of Revenue should Dayton veto the entire bill. Dayton then line-item vetoed the legislative budget instead of the whole tax bill, and Republicans took Dayton to court claiming that this line-item veto was unconstitutional.

Most observers predicted that Dayton’s veto would go down in flames, but I argued that the Republican attempt to end-run Dayton’s constitutional veto power was merely offset by Dayton’s line-item veto. I had hoped that the court would essentially find a way to stay out of it, and make the executive and legislative branches go back to the drawing board, as it were.

Process clearly laid out

The Constitution clearly lays out a process for making law, and that process does not provide for clever-by-half attempts at veto-proof legislation. The process is clear, and gives both the executive and the Legislature a clear role. Legislators pass the bills; the governor signs or vetoes them. The constitutional remedy for vetoes is a vote to override the veto with two-thirds majority. If legislators can’t override the veto, the legislation does not become law. The whole point of this is to get laws passed via compromise and negotiation rather than brute force. In this case, Republicans — frustrated by Dayton’s previous vetoes, and lacking the votes to override — tried to circumvent the normal legislative process by designing a bill Dayton could not veto. When Dayton responded with a clever tactic of his own, it went to court.

This is not how legislation is supposed work; legislators don’t get to make “veto-proof” legislation. The idea of veto-proof legislation effectively eliminates the executive’s role in passing or signing bills into law. This was a legislative attempt to impose law, not pass it, as the Minnesota Constitution requires.

Furthermore, this was part of the state budget, and the Constitution clearly makes the budget the responsibility of the Legislature and the governor, not the courts. Instead of trying to “fix” the legislation, or rule in favor of unconstitutional (i.e. “veto-proof”) legislation, the Minnesota Supreme Court basically found a way to say: “Look, this is your mess, you sort it out.” The court ruled that Dayton’s veto is constitutional, and then ordered Dayton and the Legislature to do what they’re supposed to do in the first place — negotiate a tax bill that Dayton can either sign or veto.

Preserves constitutional balance

This is the only ruling that could have preserved constitutional balance. By requiring mediation the court is basically telling everyone to go back and do their jobs the way they’re supposed to do their jobs. If the justices had simply ruled against Dayton (as the lower courts had) they would have stripped the executive of the only real leverage he or she has when faced with unacceptable legislation. If they had simply reversed the ruling and declared an executive power to defund another branch of government, they would have torn up our checks and balances. This ruling also keeps the court within its own constitutional silo by keeping it out of the budget process.

In the end, this isn’t actually a constitutional crisis because all we really have here is stupid legislative practice. Had Republicans simply stuck with the norms of constitutional legislation they wouldn’t have crafted a bill that would end up in the courts in the first place; that’s easy enough to avoid in the future. All everyone has to do is remember how legislation becomes law in Minnesota, and not try to find a different way to force legislation into law without the necessary votes. It’s silly and irresponsible to pass important legislation you know the governor won’t sign unless you have the votes to override a veto. There is no work-around in the democratic process.

Paul Udstrand is a local writer and photographer with a blog: “Thoughtful Bastards.” 


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/12/2017 - 09:05 am.


    Dayton signed the law! He could have refused to do so. Negotiations could have taken place then. I think that is how it usually works.

    Of course, this is not the first or only example of the bizarre behavior of our Governor.

    It is entertaining reading those who try and defend this guy by political spin.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/12/2017 - 10:24 am.


      Did you read the story? More importantly, did you see what the court did (unanimously, I might add)?

      Dayton’s “behavior” was neither bizarre or in need of anyone’s defense.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/12/2017 - 11:08 am.

      Just to Clarify One Point . . .

      Dayton exercised a line-item veto. Do you know what that is? Try looking it up–it’s in Article IV, section 23 of the Minnesota Constitution.

      “Of course, this is not the first or only example of the bizarre behavior of our Governor.” Do you have examples, or is “bizarre behavior” just something you disagree with? Or are you just taking a cheap shot at the Governor?

      • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/13/2017 - 09:10 am.

        “Bizarre behaviorsssss”

        So many examples come to mind by even a casual observer of the news not only as a governor but as a Senator.

        Of course this action of Dayton is not only unprecedented in Minnesota history, but it has never been successfully done in any of the 50 states. Truly Bizarre.

        Humorous tough guy “stare downs” as he walks past GOP legislative leaders.

        Only Senator to flee D.C. after 9/11.

        Just think if Trump constitutionally could have taken similar actions like Dayton in this unprecedented legislative controversy. The outcry and outrage from MinnPost writers and commenters would be “huge.” Eric Black would have to dream up new names to call Trump and a record would be set in the amount of “hate speech” on the pages of MinnPost.

        But King Mark Dayton is celebrated.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/13/2017 - 03:02 pm.


          Basically, you have one course of action you disagree with, some arguably bad behavior, and something that happened 13 years ago. Your “so many examples” add up to three.

          “Of course this action of Dayton is not only unprecedented in Minnesota history, but it has never been successfully done in any of the 50 states. Truly Bizarre.” I don’t know the figure for sure, but I believe most Governors have line-item veto power. If this precise action was never done before, perhaps it’s because legislators in other states have the integrity to keep agreements they’ve worked out with the Governors.

          “Humorous tough guy “stare downs” as he walks past GOP legislative leaders.” He made a face? Good Lord.

          “Only Senator to flee D.C. after 9/11.” He closed his office during a holiday break in response to what was called a credible threat of terrorism. It was in 2004, which was indeed “after 9/11.”

          It’s funny how Republicans love scaremongering, until someone takes them up on it.

          “Just think if Trump constitutionally could have taken similar actions like Dayton in this unprecedented legislative controversy.” If he “constitutionally” could have done it, we would be left discussing the merits of it (in case you didn’t know, the Governor’s authority under the Minnesota Constitution was the issue before the court, not whether it was a good idea, or what some would call not “bizarre.”). That, of course, leaves aside the ethics of any Trump fan calling anyone in the world out on “bizarre” behavior.

    • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 09/13/2017 - 08:21 am.

      After living thru the hell of 8 years

      Of Pawlenty, your comment is infinitely more laughable!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2017 - 09:41 am.


    Republicans slipped these provisions into the bill AFTER negotiations had closed. Dayton didn’t see these provisions until the bill landed on his desk. Republican’s knew they were not sending Dayton the bill they had negotiated and agreed to, that’s why they they tried to “veto-proof” it. Had Republicans simply sent up the bill they agreed to send up, they wouldn’t have needed veto insurance because like all the other bills Dayton signed, he would have signed the tax bill. This is clear failure to negotiate in good faith (by Republicans), it’s about “winning” rather than “governing”.

    One other thing that may not be clear is Dayton’s rationale for a line item rather than a simply full veto of the entire bill. We’ve had several government shut-downs as a result of these Republican/Dayton showdowns. I think it’s clear that Dayton was trying to find a way to resolve this without another shut down, by forcing Republicans back to the table. The Republicans on the other hand were maneuvering to shift blame for a shutdown onto Dayton and, and make a shut down as costly as possible for the executive branch. Historically it’s clear that Dayton would rather not shut down the government, while Republicans wear shut-downs like a badge of honor. I think Dayton was not only trying to deal with THIS budget cycle, but was also trying to push back against a Republican trend of normalizing government shut downs, deficits, and special sessions.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/12/2017 - 02:06 pm.

      You partisanship is showing and are missing key facts

      You seem to forget that the Legislature was moving on the budget bills long before they were due to the governor so that they could be done EARLY as there was no appetite by the Republicans to get to another government shut down. Dayton time and time again rebuffed attempts to negotiate on what he wanted except for policy items, which came up again in his ‘offer’ to negotiate after the veto. Remember, several weeks before budget bills were due, Dayton got so irritated that he told Legislative leaders to just go ahead and pass something without Dayton’s input before he would come to the table and was petulant about it. The timetable Dayton gave was almost too short before those budgets were due.
      So to say that only the Republicans acted in ‘bad faith’ is quite a misnomer because Dayton’s behavior and instructions made it hard for Republicans to trust Dayton to get everything done long before when it actually did. I’m not saying the Republicans did not do anything underhanded. But Dayton is no angel in this situation and actually was more childish from the get go. So, in the best maturity possible, he defunds a whole section of government so he could get the last word in.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2017 - 02:57 pm.

        Again to clarify

        “You seem to forget that the Legislature was moving on the budget bills long before they were due to the governor so that they could be done EARLY as there was no appetite by the Republicans to get to another government shut down”

        Republicans did NOT get their bills done early, they passed 10 major budget bills and sent them up to Dayton with less than two weeks left in the regular session. Dayton vetoed all of those bills. A special session was then called because Republicans were unable to pass legislation Dayton would sign in the remaining 8 days of the regular session.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/12/2017 - 05:03 pm.


        Any determination of good faith depends on what is actually in the bills. And what the Republicans were proposing early on was not done in good faith. Dayton’s reaction to that was expected and appropriate.

Leave a Reply