An attorney representing two Republican state lawmakers argued before the state’s highest court Wednesday that Democratic leaders violated the state constitution last spring when Gov. Janet Mills called a special session as part of a procedural maneuver to pass a state budget without any Republican support.

Mills called the special session so lawmakers could finish their work after they adjourned early to ensure that a party-line state budget could take effect in time for the new fiscal year. The moves prompted outrage from Republicans and resulted in the lawsuit that’s now before the high court.

But an assistant attorney general pushed back against the lawsuit, arguing that the governor has power to unilaterally call a special session under extraordinary circumstances and that she acted within her authority.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard the case Wednesday afternoon in the Cumberland County Courthouse. The court heard oral arguments for about 30 minutes and will issue a written decision at a later date.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Augusta resident William Clardy and his organization Respect Maine, along with Republican Reps. Shelley Rudnicki of Fairfield and Randall Greenwood of Wales. It names Mills and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate as defendants.

The dispute dates back to the end of last year’s legislative session, when Democrats passed a state budget in a party-line vote, then temporarily adjourned the session so the spending plan could take effect in time for the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. A budget passed with two-thirds support can take effect immediately, but one passed with less than two-thirds support takes effect after 90 days.


Mills signed the budget and immediately called the Legislature back into a special session to finish its work on hundreds of bills and to decide what to do with hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus state revenue that wasn’t allocated in the budget.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit, originally filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, argued that Mills acted unconstitutionally in calling a special session when there was no “extraordinary occasion,” as is required in the state constitution.

The Maine Constitution states that legislative leaders can call a special session with support from a majority of members of each political party, or the governor may do so “on extraordinary occasions.”

The suit also accused Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, of colluding with Mills to bypass the constitution, pass the budget and reconvene lawmakers.

The justices on Wednesday focused their questioning of Carl Woock, an attorney for the plaintiffs, on whether the parties involved had standing to bring a complaint to the court. And they appeared to be skeptical of his answers.

“The plaintiffs in this case fall into three different categories: citizens, some legislators and then there’s an organization,” said Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill as she started off the questioning. “I don’t really see any allegations in the complaint that would give the organization organizational standing, are there?”


Woock said the organization, Respect Maine, is comprised of taxpayers and sitting state representatives. He said the lawmakers involved in the case have had their votes against convening a special session diminished by the actions of the governor and legislative leaders.

“That idea of standing then really depends on us agreeing with you then that those two things are somehow related, in other words, that the Legislature’s ability to convene a special session is somehow related to the governor’s ability to convene a special session,” Stanfill said. “If the governor can convene a special session without regard to what the Legislature does or doesn’t do, then there can’t be a diminishment of the vote,” she added later on.

Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Patwardhan told the court that Mills and legislative leaders acted lawfully when they reconvened lawmakers.

Pressed by Justice Andrew Mead for more details on what constitutes an extraordinary occasion, Patwardhan said it’s up to the governor.

“The argument we’re making is that the governor gets to determine what constitutes an extraordinary occasion,” she said. “The circumstances that were presented to Gov. Mills might not be extraordinary in the judgement of another governor, but that governor would get to decide.”

Patwardhan also told the court that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could call into question the legitimacy not just of the laws passed in the special session in question, but also laws passed in other special sessions. “That would be a truly remarkable outcome,” she said.

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