Brewer v. Burns – 8/13/2009

August 26, 2009

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That The Legislature Must Transmit All Passed Bills to the Governor With No More Delay than is Necessary to Complete Any Ministerial Tasks.

On June 4, 2009, the Arizona Legislature passed a series of appropriations bills.  The leaders of both chambers of the Legislature thereafter signed the bills, but refused to present them to the Governor after she announced her intent to veto them.  The Governor demanded that the Legislature immediately transmit the bills.  After the Legislature refused, the Governor filed a petition for special action with the Arizona Supreme Court, which accepted jurisdiction but ultimately denied the requested relief.

The Arizona Supreme Court first concluded that the case was justiciable.  The Court explained that the case was proper for special action review because it involved a good-faith dispute between coordinate branches of government over their respective lawmaking powers.  The Court also determined that the Governor had standing and that the case was ripe because the Governor alleged that the Legislature’s refusal to present finally passed bills violates the Constitution and undermines her express powers.  Lastly, the Court concluded that the case did not involve a political question because the Constitution did not commit resolution of the issue to another branch of government and the courts are well equipped to resolve the dispute.

Turning to the merits, the Court held that the Legislature must immediately present to the Governor all bills signed into law, allowing only a short time to complete ministerial matters.  The Court reasoned that the Constitution requires all bills to be transmitted “when finally passed,” and that the plain meaning of “when” “signal[s] a point in time-related to the occurrence of a specific event” – namely, the final passage of a bill.  Ultimately, however, the Court denied the Governor’s request that the Court order the Legislature to transmit the bills by 5:00 p.m. on June 23, 2009, because the Legislature may have waited to pass the bills had it anticipated the Court’s decision and the Legislature committed to transmit the bills within a week.

Chief Justice Berch concurred in the result but wrote separately to explain that she would have held, based on the lack of any timing requirement in the Presentment Clause and past practice, that the Legislature need only transmit a passed bill within a reasonable time.

Justice Bales authored the majority opinion; Chief Justice Berch concurred in the result.