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Lawmakers petition ND Supreme Court over Burgum vetoes

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at the first meeting of the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Diversion Task Force on Monday, Oct. 23, at the Fargodome. Blake Gumprecht / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers petitioned the state Supreme Court Friday morning, Dec. 8, challenging several vetoes Gov. Doug Burgum issued after the Legislature adjourned this year.

House and Senate leaders from both parties asked the court to determine "whether the governor exceeded his constitutional authority in making select partial vetoes." The document, provided by the governor's office, points to Burgum's vetoes on parts of four budget bills funding higher education, the Department of Commerce, the State Water Commission and the Department of Trust Lands.

The petition asks the court to determine the legal effect of Burgum's partial vetoes, "including whether each veto is void, and what the current status of each affected bill is."

Lawmakers, who voted in late September to sue Burgum, have said the move was intended to clarify the roles of the legislative and executive branches of state government.

"To preserve the balance of power among the three branches of government, the legislative branch must be able to challenge unconstitutional vetoes in court," the petition states. "Foreclosing such a challenge would give the executive branch the power to legislate, deny the legislative branch the power to pass laws by a majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto, and strip the judicial branch of its authority to interpret the constitution."

The Legislature is represented by Bismarck attorneys Randall Bakke and Shawn Grinolds. Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor's office has not yet decided whether to hire outside counsel.

Burgum, a first-term Republican, said in a statement it's "disappointing to see scarce taxpayer dollars being spent on a costly lawsuit over something that's already been addressed in an attorney general's opinion." He reiterated that his vetoes were intended to protect executive branch authority and prevent "the spending of limited state resources without full legislative review."

"We will respond accordingly and firmly to any attempt to infringe on executive branch authority," Burgum said.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who also was served with a copy of the suit, issued a statement Friday afternoon.

“We just received the petition and are reviewing it,” Stenhjem wrote. “Once we have done so, I will consult with the Governor and make recommendations on how to best to proceed and to defend the state’s interests, consistent with my duty to the Constitution of North Dakota.”

It was not immediately clear when the court would take up the case.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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