The political dispute between Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature over whether he filed 65 vetoes on time reached a courtroom on Friday, drawing such a large crowd to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that security had to turn people away from the main chamber.

Every one of the roughly 110 seats in the courtroom at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland was filled 20 minutes before six justices sat to hear oral arguments from lawyers for the governor, legislators and the attorney general.

Judicial marshals directed people who arrived afterward to an overflow room, where they could listen in through an audio system.

The crowd – which included legislators, lawyers, students and members of the local and national media – had come to hear the legal positions staked out by the legislative and executive branches. The Legislature contends that the 10-day veto period had expired when LePage filed the vetoes on July 16. The governor, however, maintains that he should be allowed to file the vetoes because the legislature adjourned on June 30, giving him three days after lawmakers reconvened on July 16 to submit vetoes.

The bills that LePage is seeking to veto were among 70 that most legislative leaders and Attorney General Janet Mills say have become law because LePage missed the 10-day window set by the Maine Constitution. Each piece of legislation has been written into law by the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes. The 65 bills in question cover a wide range of policy areas, including General Assistance for asylum seekers, expanded use of a medication to treat drug overdoses, property tax breaks for Vietnam War veterans and birth control for MaineCare recipients.

Hear audio from Friday’s hearing.


Cynthia Montgomery, the governor’s legal counsel, began the hearing by arguing about legal definitions of adjournment and that the Legislature’s recess prevented LePage from returning vetoes. As soon as her three-minute introduction time was up, the justices challenged Montgomery with more questions than they asked the other lawyers who spoke, sometimes interrupting her with another question before she finished answering the previous one during her 15-minute presentation.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley started posing questions first, saying this governor and previous governors have filed vetoes while the Legislature is not in session.

“If we accept your argument, do we not call into question those vetoes that were returned in prior years on those facts?” Saufley asked.

Montgomery said the recent legislative session was different from ones in the past because lawmakers adjourned without saying when they would return.

Justice Ellen Gorman sharply questioned Montgomery’s contention that poor communication between the Legislature and the governor’s office was behind the confusion on when the clock had begun to tick on 10-day veto period.

“You cannot be making the argument that the governor was unaware that the time was running,” Gorman said.


Gorman mentioned that legislative clerks had been in communication with the governor’s office in the days after lawmakers adjourned on June 30, making the administration aware that the clerks were available to receive the vetoes in the lawmakers’ absence.

“Why, in an extremely difficult session, would the governor choose this time to do a test case? Why not make the vetoes and then make the argument?” Gorman asked Montgomery.

Montgomery said the governor saw the lawmakers’ adjournment as preventing him from returning the vetoes and that he filed them within a three-day window after the Legislators returned to session.

“It was a decision by the governor to follow his own reading of the Constitution,” Montgomery said.

Justice Joseph Jabar quoted from the legislative minutes that lawmakers had specifically adjourned on June 30 to await the governor’s vetoes in their absence.

“They knew it was going to be beyond 10 days and they knew it would be for the purpose of waiting for the returns,” Jabar said.


Attorney Timothy Woodcock, who represents the Legislature, argued that the justices should not view the legal dispute before them as a partisan issue, but rather as an issue about separation of powers between the branches of government.

“These bills arrived on (the governor’s) desk, and it is not his concern when the legislators will return,” Woodcock said.

Saufley questioned Woodcock about a statute setting the end of the legislative session as June 17 and whether it made an impact that the Legislature did not formally extend the session to June 30.

“When the Legislature did not extend its term while it was in session, did that session of the Legislature end in such a way to prevent the governor’s return (of vetoes)?” Saufley asked.

Woodcock answered by suggesting that the Maine Constitution trumps the state statute.

“The drafters of the constitution could have put in a constitutional deadline for each session into the constitution, but they did not. There is no constitutional deadline on the first or second regular session,” Woodcock said.


Saufley responded with a statement about the constitution.

“What they did do is make it very clear that it is the Legislature that determines when it is and is not in session, not the court, not the executive branch, even though the governor can convene in extraordinary circumstances,” Saufley said.

Afterward, she and the other justices asked more questions about the June 17 statute.

The other two attorneys were allowed only five minutes to speak, less than the 15 minutes given to Montgomery and Woodcock.

Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner argued that LePage had missed his veto deadline.

L. Clinton Boothby, an attorney hired by a group of Republican lawmakers who back LePage, argued that the governor’s 65 vetoes were timely.

It is unclear if the justices will issue a ruling on the legal issues in the case. They first must decide whether the governor’s request for an opinion rises to the level of a “solemn occasion,” the legal threshold for the court to render an opinion in a dispute between the branches of Maine’s government.

When LePage last sought an opinion from the Supreme Judicial Court in a dispute with Mills, the attorney general, the justices ruled in March that one of the two questions LePage posed reached the solemn occasion threshold while the other did not.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm, the court’s seventh justice, recused himself from the case.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.