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Judge: State courts will remain open during shutdown

The state court system will remain open, even if the state government hits partial shutdown mode on Friday.

A retired judge, Bruce Christopherson, who had been specially appointed by the Supreme Court to handle that portion of the case, ruled that without a functioning court system  it would impossible to guarantee various constitutional rights that are guaranteed to Minnesotans. So he ordered that the judicial branch receive a continuation of its state funding at the same level as the current biennium, which expires June 30.

The question of which other state functions might stay open during a shutdown in under advisement before Kathleen Gearin, chief judge of Ramsey County District Court. Gearin recused herself from hearing the portion of the case that affects the judicial branch, perhaps because she is a member of that branch and her own salary and those of her staff would be at issue. Christopherson, as a retired judge, was paid by the day to handle that part of the case.

In his order, Chrisopherson acknowledged that the state constitution bans any money being spent without “an appropriation by law.” But he said the constitutional harm of closing the court system was certain, while the question of whether spending that occurs under an a court order  might qualify as a kind of appropriation was less clear.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/28/2011 - 02:47 pm.

    So basically, it’s unconstitutional for the courts to order the continuation of state government except when it’s the paychecks of judges and clerks. Nothing like a principled stand by the judiciary!

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/28/2011 - 03:10 pm.

    I think he’s dissembling, but that’s often what lawyers do. This is a situation where the pragmatic may well be the better choice than the doctrinaire.

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 06/28/2011 - 03:50 pm.

    Re #1 – now there’s some typical right wing political spin. It’s not the paychecks that are at issue, it’s the ability of the courts to continue to fulfill their constitutional duties. The courts must function, or there is no civil society left. Only a zealot and a fool would argue otherwise. I, for one, am grateful that the courts refuse to allow the constitutional rights of Minnesotans to compromised because one party puts protection of the very rich ahead of all other considerations. This isn’t a political game. The repubs are fraking with real lives of real people.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/28/2011 - 04:55 pm.

    This was a very carefully drafted opinion that tried to plot a middle course between the rock and the hard place. I think we will be seeing a lot of these kinds of opinions, if shutdown happens. The objective of the courts, up and down the line, will be to avoid taking sides in a political dispute between the political branches of government, while at the same time ensuring the safety and security and other rights Minnesotans have under the Federal and state constitutions and laws are protected. Judge Christopherson has done a good job in providing a first road map for other judges to follow. Let’s hope it’s not needed.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/28/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    #3: No not right wing spin. I’m sorry if it sounds that way. Keeping the courts open to “protect Constitutional rights” is a pretty and Orwellian way of saying keeping the police state in operation. They’re not going to stop issuing traffic tickets. Which is not to say it’s not necessary either. Drunks and murderers need to be kept off the streets too.

    But where do you draw the line? Do you keep the appellate courts going? Obviously you need prosecutors? What about the AG’s office? Which divisions? Consumer protection? What about health?

    Most of what the state courts handle is divorce and family matters, some of which can be quite serious, blurring into the criminal area. The you have probate, collection matters. I submit on this judge’s logic, you can justify ordering all of state government to be kept going at 2010 levels. He has not defined any basic principle that justifies exempting the courts from the shutdown.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/29/2011 - 08:02 am.

    //Orwellian way of saying keeping the police state in operation.

    Police state Eric? We live in a police state? When was the last time you heard of a government shut down in a police state that wasn’t caused by a revolution?

    My question is the distinction between civil and criminal courts. I can see keeping the criminal courts functioning as matter of constitutional necessity, but what about the civil courts? I can’t tell if this order keeps all the courts function or just the criminal aspects that guarantee due process?

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/29/2011 - 08:44 am.

    The last time I heard of a government shut not caused by a revolution? I don’t get the question? Nobody’s talking about a “general strike”. A shut down of state government does not suspend the ordinary operations of the police state which is handled fiscally and administratively by the counties and states. The patchwork of local police and sheriff departments are integrated into a single national police department by the Department of Homeland Security. I would not think such an observation would elicit any surprise.

    Part of the business of sheriff’s department is evictions, foreclosures, foreclosure and execution sales. They operate under judicial process. Who do you think benefits from this? The judge’s order covers all judicial functions. It does not differentiate between criminal and civil matters.

  8. Submitted by Don Medal on 06/29/2011 - 09:08 am.

    #1 – if not the judiciary to rule on this issue, who? (keeping as close as possible to the State and US Constitutions, of course) The courts are the only resort when the legislature is unable to fufill its mandate. Without the courts we’d be left with street protests. I don’t see how you associate the courts with “police state”.

    I don’t think it is a given that state traffic tickets will be issued. But let’s say someone is arrested for a crime in the State system. (I’m not a lawyer and can’t say what is State and what can be dealt with in the County courts) The police (if indeed they are working) couldn’t hold a violent criminal as everyone is constitutionally afforded the right to a prompt hearing. Anything where the defendant has a right to the Courts (pretty much everything) would be disabled.

    Finally, and a bit off topic, why is this only cast as Republican Legislature vs Governor? At the State and Federal level we have an oft used procedure to deal with a Governor or President vetoing legislation. The veto is overidden by vote of the Legislature. That’s hardly an aberration, it is fundamental to the way our country is set up.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/29/2011 - 10:25 am.

    //The last time I heard of a government shut not caused by a revolution? I don’t get the question?

    No, what you don’t get Jon is the fact that while all “states” have police functions, not all states are police states. You do not live in a police state.

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/29/2011 - 11:10 am.

    Just keep telling yourself that, Paul. The US Supreme Court and Congress have shown us that there is no limit to what the “state” can do including detaining people without hearing or trial indefinitely. That applies to American citizens too.

    My point in this is only to say that if the judiciary can justify keeping themselves paid, there is nothing to prevent a court from ordering that any state function be continued and paid for.

  11. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/30/2011 - 02:23 pm.

    Well and explicitly written legislation can effectively overrule a court’s decision by making it moot.
    Any court decision applies to a specific act (in this case legislation).
    The problem is the current legislation governing a government shutdown is ambiguous.

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