Teaser

Alaska court hears arguments in dispute over appointments

State Supreme Court considers whether governor appointments to boards, commissions and his cabinet.

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

The Alaska Supreme Court is considering whether Gov. Mike Dunleavy improperly kept in place appointments to boards, commissions and his cabinet after lawmakers failed to meet to consider the appointments.

Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg in February ruled that Dunleavy was prohibited by law from making recess appointments of the same people lawmakers had failed to confirm. The ruling came in a case brought against the Republican Dunleavy in December by the Legislative Council, which is made up of House and Senate leaders. State attorneys, on Dunleavy’s behalf, appealed the ruling.

The council argued that appointments presented by Dunleavy in early 2020 lapsed in December when lawmakers failed to act on them, though they said Dunleavy was free to reappoint a person who was declined when a new legislative session began. The current session started on Jan. 19.

Attorneys for the state argued that some provisions of law dealing with appointments were unconstitutional.

Dunleavy’s pick for Department of Revenue commissioner, Lucinda Mahoney, was among the affected appointees.

Janell Hafner, an attorney with the Department of Law representing Dunleavy, said Tuesday that the legislature “abdicated” its responsibility to render judgment in joint session on Dunleavy’s appointments. She said the case is about “whether the legislature can weaponize its own inaction and encroach on gubernatorial authority, making Alaskans pay the price for its own inertia.”

A filing with the court by attorneys for the state, including Hafner, said the Legislative Council’s position “permits the legislature to kneecap an administration without the accountability of a vote, frustrating the will of the electorate by impeding a governor’s ability to utilize the subordinates he or she needs to administer state affairs and oversee the delivery of essential services.”

Megan Wallace, an attorney for the Legislative Council, in arguments Tuesday said the state constitution is “silent” on what happens in the face of inaction. Without specific constitutional language to provide direction, “the legislature had the power to fill in the gaps,” she said.

Amid COVID-19 concerns last year, the Legislature passed a law allowing lawmakers to adjourn and take up confirmations later.

That law said if lawmakers didn’t act on the appointments either a month after an initial pandemic disaster declaration expired or by Jan. 18 — whichever was first — that amounted to them declining to confirm those people. The declaration ended on Nov. 15.

But Dunleavy, in a letter to legislative leaders on Dec. 16, said he viewed as valid appointees the Legislature had not acted to confirm. He said he would re-submit names of people who had not been confirmed and submit any new picks during the session that is now underway.

Pallenberg, in a written judgment, said the appointments Dunleavy presented to the Legislature during the 2020 session were not valid from Dec. 16 “until the time at which those appointments were, if ever, presented” by Dunleavy to the Legislature for the current, ongoing session.

The judge said he expressed no opinion about the ability of a person to contest the action of someone whose appointment “was not valid” during that period.

He also issued an order last month granting attorneys’ fees of more than $26,000 to the Legislative Council.

The lawsuit was brought under prior council leadership, which changed with the new legislative cycle.

House and Senate lawmakers traditionally meet to consider confirmations near the end of a regular session. Republican Sen. Peter Micciche, who took over as Senate president this session, told reporters last month that appointments would be addressed before lawmakers adjourn.

“We may have differences with the administration, but we’re not going to get in the way of their operations running smoothly either,” he said.

More in News

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, April 14

The most recent state and local numbers.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

This photo shows the National Archives in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle that has about a million boxes of generally unique, original source documents and public records. In an announcement made Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Biden administration has halted the sale of the federal archives building in Seattle, following months of opposition from people across the Pacific Northwest and a lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Among the records at the center are tribal, military, land, court, tax and census documents. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Biden halts sale of National Archives center in Seattle

Tribes and members of Congress pushed for the halt.

This photo shows Unangax̂ Gravesite at Funter Bay, the site where Aleut villagers forcibly relocated to the area during World War II are buried. A bill recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives would make the area part of a neighboring state park. (Courtesy photo / Niko Sanguinetti, Juneau-Douglas City Museum) 
DO NOT REUSE THIS PHOTO WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM JUNEAU DOUGLAS CITY MUSEUM. -BEN HOHENSTATT
Bill to preserve Unangax̂ Gravesite passes House

Bill now heads to the state Senate.

The state announced this week that studded tires will be allowed for longer than usual. In Southeast Alaska, studded tires will be allowed until May 1 instead of April 15. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
State extends studded tire deadline

Prolonged wintry weather triggers the change.

Most Read