Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court sidestepped an important question, one that will, we fear, pop up again and again.
The question concerns how the state should handle a government shutdown such as we experienced last July.
During the past shutdown, and the one before it, the judiciary stepped in. A judge was appointed to make decisions on where money should be appropriated and which services were necessary during the shutdown. Four Republican state senators filed a suit, arguing that the Minnesota constitution states that no state money can be spent without an appropriation, that the power of appropriation is assigned to the Legislature (subject to the usual gubernatorial veto power), and that none of the branches of the Minnesota government can perform functions that are reserved to other branches. There's nothing in the constitution saying what to do in case the Legislature and governor can't agree, as seems to be happening more frequently in recent years.
The Minnesota Supreme Court's ruling on Wednesday was that the question is moot, since the shutdown ended. Courts typically decline to hear cases that have otherwise been resolved, unless some underlying principle remains to be decided.
We think that is the case here. The problem has been resolved and has gone away - until the next state shutdown, which could be in a couple of years, given the state's track record.
It benefit the state greatly to have a clear idea on what should be the proper procedure in a state shutdown - whether a judicial referee needs to be appointed to make sure essential services continue, or whether the legislature should pass a "lights on" bill to handle the situation.