Judge Phillip Pallenberg ruled last week that the Legislature can simply avoid approving the governor’s appointees, thus invalidating those appointments. The ruling has at least one potential major effect: The Legislature can essentially decapitate State government by refusing to meet.
Last year, the Legislature left Juneau without approving Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 94 appointments, including those to the Board of Fisheries, as well as his new Revenue commissioner and public defender to replace Quinlan Steiner, who resigned. Those appointments expired in December because of the Legislature’s inaction.
If allowed to stand, the decision means the Legislature can hold the governor hostage by gaveling out and leaving those positions subject to expiration.
Alaskans know about commissioners and even the public defender as being critical to the functioning of state government. But equally important are the health professional boards that oversee licenses, and fish and game boards that set seasons and approve guide licenses.
Especially in the first year of any new administration, when a governor has to submit all his or her names for approval by the Legislature, this ruling could allow a recalcitrant Legislature to sandbag the executive branch.
That’s what happened last year under Sen. Cathy Giessel and Speaker Bryce Edgmon.
Pallenberg may have thrown the Alaska government into chaos with his decision that may embolden further refusal to confirm appointments by the Legislature.
The Pallenberg decision came after the Legislative Council filed a lawsuit against the governor, saying his 94 appointees were invalid after Dec. 15, since they lacked confirmation.
Dunleavy said it was his duty to keep the government running and it was the constitutional duty of the Legislature to meet and consider those appointments.
Dunleavy could have made a formal demand for the Legislature to convene, but the pandemic was still raging, and many legislators were fearful of travel. They had already shown an unwillingness to convene outside of Juneau; Dunleavy called them into special session in Wasilla in 2019, and Democrats refused to go.
They had also not passed legislation that would have allowed them to meet remotely, although such legislation had been filed. Giessel and Edgmon did not want to change the rules under which the Legislature operates.
Dunleavy reappointed those 94 individuals when the new Legislature reconvened on Jan. 19, 2021. Once again, they must be confirmed before Dec. 15, or they expire.
Democrats in the House and Senate are reviewing decisions that may have been made by boards and commissions, and Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney in that one-month period, with an eye toward unwinding those decisions through lawsuits.
Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens, who was chair of the Legislative Council when the lawsuit was filed, said the decision affirms the Legislature’s confirmation power.