ACLU sues Alaska governor over court budget cuts

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy for retaliating against the state’s courts for ruling in favor of abortion rights.

The group filed the complaint in Alaska Superior Court on Wednesday over Dunleavy’s veto in June that cut the judiciary’s budget by $334,700 — the total cost of state-funded abortions in fiscal year 2018, the governor said.

“The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court,” Dunleavy wrote in conjunction with the veto. “The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”

The cut represents about a 4.7% decrease in Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the appellate courts in December.

In its complaint, the ACLU argued that the veto violated the separation of powers established in the state’s constitution “because it retaliates against and seeks to punish the court system for exercising its judicial powers and seeks to undermine the independence of the judiciary.”

The group is requesting that the court declare Dunleavy’s action unconstitutional and order him to return the docked funds to the budget.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a 2014 statute restricting which abortions qualify as “medically necessary” to receive Medicaid funds was unconstitutional.

On the legislative side, Republican state Rep. David Eastman sponsored a bill in May that would legally equate abortion with “death of a child” and make it punishable by up to 99 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Alaska ACLU Executive Director Joshua Decker called Dunleavy’s actions a constitutional threat.

“Governor Dunleavy admitted outright that his veto was direct retaliation against the Alaska Court System for a court decision at odds with his political views,” Decker said in a statement. “That isn’t just petty and vindictive; it is a clear assault on the constitutional power of the judiciary and a grossly inappropriate attempt to use money to coerce judges to a political end.”

Jeff Turner, Dunleavy’s deputy communications director, told CNN Friday that Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s statement on Thursday represented the governor’s stance on the case.

“The governor’s express veto power includes all appropriation bills and there is no exception stated regarding appropriations to the Judiciary or court system,” Clarkson wrote, accusing the ACLU of proposing “to imbalance the separation of powers established by the Alaska Constitution” by “having the Judiciary place itself in the position of controlling how the other two separate and coequal branches of government fund the courts.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify that Eastman’s bill would classify all fetuses as children.