Representatives Kirk Talbot and Cameron Henry have made waves about the constitutionality of the budget before. Talbot led a group of 19 GOP lawmakers that appealed to State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell with the same concerns last fall. Caldwell suggested the lawmakers go directly to the courts.
The lawmakers are asking a judge to clarify of the law. No matter the outcome of the case, legislators will not be asked to “redo” the budget as it stands now. If the ruling goes the lawmakers’ way, it could discourage the use of one-time funding in the future.
Constitutional scholar John Devlin says any judge hearing the case would ask himself three questions. First, if the judicial branch even has the jurisdiction to hear the case.
“Courts refrain from interjecting themselves in disputes between political branches and sometimes even more so disputes within political branches, which is what this may be.”
Because a group of legislators is challenging the legislature as a whole, the judicial branch may see the issue as something the legislature should figure out itself.
“The second question would be the legal question: does Article 7, Section 11 of the constitution require a balanced budget and is that an enforceable legal mandate?”
Devlin says some provisions of the constitution serve more as guidelines for lawmakers that can’t really be enforced. That may be the case here. Perhaps the constitution only requires the legislature to try to balance the budget, but doesn’t say how.
The third question is about the “facts of the case.” Before legislatures balance the budget, a committee estimates the amount of money legislators can work with. These numbers are just forecasts.
Devlin says judges prefer not to rule on speculation, so a judge may decide he doesn’t have enough facts to rule the case.
District Judge Tim Kelley will be the man to do it.