Stories about Maine

Maine lawsuit challenges whether voters can overturn state agency orders

A new lawsuit asks whether the Maine Constitution allows citizens to use ballot initiatives to reverse agency orders. On May 12, Avangrid Networks, Inc. asked the Cumberland County Superior Court to block a ballot initiative that aims to overturn a Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision to grant Central Maine Power Company (CMP) a permit to build new electricity transmission lines.

Opponents of the electricity project gathered enough signatures to put the ballot initiative before voters during the November 3 election but Avangrid argued that the initiative is unconstitutional.

According to Article IV of the Maine Constitution, citizens may exercise the legislative power through direct initiative. Avangrid argued that this particular initiative goes beyond an exercise of legislative authority by the people because “it would enact no law, would repeal no law, and would amend no law.” Instead of changing how the agency awards Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), the ballot initiative would reverse a single PUC order granting a CPNC for the electricity project.

Avangrid argued that letting the ballot initiative move forward would violate the separation of powers provision found in Article III of the Maine Constitution. The company stated that the initiative would exercise executive authority by reversing an agency order and judicial authority by overturning a related court decision.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in cases concerning ACA, copyright, and NYC’s former ban on transporting firearms

On April 27, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in three cases argued during its October Term 2019-2020. The court has issued 29 decisions this term.

Maine Community Health Options v. United States concerned the “Risk Corridors” program of Section 1342 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and was argued on December 10, 2019.
  • The issue: Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor defined the issue: “These cases are about whether petitioners—insurers who claim losses under the Risk Corridors program—have a right to payment under §1342 and a damages remedy for the unpaid amounts.”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Federal Circuit’s decision in an 8-1 ruling and remanded the case. The court held that the risk corridors statute created a government obligation to pay insurers the full amount set out in Section 1342’s formula, that Congress did not impliedly repeal the obligation through its appropriations riders, and that petitioners properly relied on the Tucker Act to sue for damages in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc., a case that concerned copyright law and the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), originated from the 11th Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the government edicts doctrine extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed the 11th Circuit’s decision in a 5-4 ruling, holding “the OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that under the government edicts doctrine, judges and legislators “may not be considered the ‘authors’ of the works they produce in the course of their official duties.” The rule applies even if a material lacks the force of law.
New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York concerned New York City’s former ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits. It originated in the 2nd Circuit and was argued on December 2, 2019.
  • The issue: “Whether the City’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked, and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is consistent with the Second Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the constitutional right to travel.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated the 2nd Circuit’s ruling in a 6-3 per curiam decision, holding the petitioners’ claim was moot because the city changed the ban in 2019. A per curiam decision is issued collectively by the court with no indicated authorship. Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined in full by Justice Neil Gorsuch and in all but Part IV-B by Justice Clarence Thomas.

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Maine extends revised stay-at-home order

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Maine Governor Janet Mills announced that she was extending the state’s stay-at-home order through May 31. The new order, which Mills called a “Stay Safer at Home Order,” relaxes restrictions on some businesses as part of the first stage of the state’s new reopening plan. Gatherings with more than 10 people are still prohibited, but beginning May 1, some businesses, such a barbershops, drive-in movie theaters, and auto dealers, can reopen with restrictions. Most state parks will reopen, according to Mills, and church services will be allowed to recommence, so long as they are drive-in, stay-in-your-vehicle services.

The reopening plan gradually relaxes restrictions on individuals and businesses over the course of four stages. The timeline, according to Mills, is flexible and dependent on COVID-19 trends and hospitalization rates. The second stage of the plan is tentatively slated to begin on June 1. The third stage is tentatively slated to begin July 1. There is no date associated with the fourth stage.

The order goes into effect on Thursday.

Chief justice of Maine Supreme Court resigns

Chief justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley of the Maine State Supreme Court resigned April 14. She stepped down to take a new position as the dean of the University of Maine School of Law, her alma mater.

Saufley first joined the court in 1997, following her appointment by independent then-governor Angus King. In 2001, Saufley became the first woman and the youngest member of the court to be appointed chief justice, and was reappointed in 2009 and 2016. Andrew Mead, who first joined the court in 2007, is serving as acting chief of the court following Saufley’s resignation.

Justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Maine State Senate. In 2020, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected, all due to retirements.

Democratic governors are responsible for filling seven of the 11 vacancies, while Republican governors are responsible for filling the remaining four. At the time of Saufley’s retirement, six of the 11 vacancies have been filled, four by Democratic governors (two in Washington) and two by Republican governors.

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Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Leigh Ingalls Saufley
Andrew Mead