Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today asked (.pdf) the Supreme Court to take up seven furlough lawsuit appeals before the appellate courts can rule on them.
The move makes sense economically. The state has already spent $589,000 on litigation costs “with tens of thousands remaining to be billed,” Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said.
And it’s not like the trial courts have been issuing consistent rulings.
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled last year (free reg. req.) that the governor did indeed have the authority to furlough 200,000 state workers via executive order. But an Alameda County Superior Court judge recently held that the governor’s furlough of thousands of employees in non-general fund agencies was illegal.
All these lawsuits were probably headed to the Supreme Court anyway. The governor’s lawyers say the petition is a potential time-saver. But it’s also shaping up to be a big political headache for the judiciary.
With the chief justice pleading with the governor to return millions of dollars in budget cuts — and to shield his courthouse construction fund and computer system funding — critics will surely see a quid pro quo in a Supreme Court ruling that backs the governor’s position on furloughs.
And if the court sides with the suing employee groups? Well, wouldn’t that make more budget whacks to the judiciary this summer look like quite the coincidence?
Maybe that’s just a cynical view. Maybe politics can remain happily distant from the courts.
Or maybe not. The First District Court of Appeal today upheld (.pdf) the governor’s line item veto last July of $488 million in health and welfare spending. An appeal of that lawsuit, spearheaded by the Democratic leader of the state Senate, Darrell Steinberg, is surely headed to the Supreme Court as well.