Supreme Court rules in favor of Gov. Dunleavy in case over unconfirmed appointees

The Alaska Supreme Court listens to oral arguments in a case on whether 94 of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's appointees were valid after the Legislature failed to hold a joint session in 2020, in a Zoom call on April 6, 2021. (Gavel Alaska screen capture)
The Alaska Supreme Court listens to oral arguments in a case on whether 94 of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointees remained valid after the Legislature failed to hold a joint session last year, in a Zoom call on Tuesday. On Thursday, the court ruled in favor of Dunleavy. (Gavel Alaska screen capture)

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that many of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointees were valid after the Legislature failed to meet on whether to confirm them last year. 

The ruling reverses a Superior Court decision that the 94 positions had been vacated in December. 

The court found that a provision of a longstanding state law is unconstitutional. That law says that when the Legislature fails to act on appointees, it rejects them. 

The ruling came two days after the court heard oral arguments in the case between the governor and the Alaska Legislative Council. 

In that hearing, Justice Dario Borghesan said the people who framed the state constitution appeared to view the joint session as a measure of how acceptable appointees are. And he questioned whether the Legislature failing to act indicated its position on appointees.

“How can that be squared with the framers’ intent that the confirmation process really be the ultimate voice on the governor’s appointees?” Borghesan asked the council’s lawyer. 

Kodiak Republican Senator Gary Stevens chaired the council last year. He said after reading the ruling that while his side lost, he’s glad the court cleared up an issue related to the separation of powers between the Legislature and the governor. 

“It’s always good to get the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitution,” he said. “So now we know.” 

The Legislature didn’t hold a joint session when it left Juneau early, after the pandemic started. Stevens said he doesn’t expect that will happen again. 

The ruling comes less than two months after Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg ruled that Dunleavy didn’t have the power to keep the appointees after a deadline in December passed.

The Supreme Court ruling was two pages long. A full opinion explaining the court’s position will be released later.