Stories about Maine

Maine Superior Court: Referendum challenging agency action will remain on November ballot

On June 29th, Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren decided not to remove a Maine ballot referendum from the November 2020 ballot that challenges a state agency decision to give permission to build a high-voltage power line. Opponents of the referendum argued in court that the ballot measure violates the separation of powers provision found in Article III of the Maine Constitution.
Warren ruled “that the lawsuit raises important questions about the separation of powers under the Maine Constitution but said the ‘substantive challenges to the validity of the proposed initiative may not be reviewed at this time,’” according to a report from _Associated Press_.
The opponents argued that the measure would be an exercise of executive authority by reversing an agency order and of judicial authority by overturning a related court decision. They claim that Maine’s constitutional referendum provisions do not give the people of the state authority to exercise the powers of those branches of government.
According to Article IV of the Maine Constitution, citizens may exercise the legislative power through direct initiative. A company associated with the power line project 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.”
In its report, Associated Press said, “Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap agrees on the constitutional issue but proposed keeping the matter on the ballot as an advisory referendum.”
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Maine Republican Party files signatures for veto referendum to repeal ranked-choice voting for presidential elections

On June 15, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine LD 1803, which established ranked-choice voting for presidential elections. Under LD 1803, Maine is slated to use ranked-choice voting to elect the president for the first time on November 3, 2020.

The Maine Republican Party led the signature-gathering efforts for the veto referendum. Demi Kouzounas, chairperson of the Maine Republican Party, filed the veto referendum on February 3, 2020. Proponents needed to collect 63,067 valid signatures. The office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that proponents reported filing 68,000 signatures. Dunlap’s office has 30 days (from June 15) to review the signatures. The measure would appear on the November ballot.

A successful signature drive would suspend the law until voters decide the law’s fate, meaning ranked-choice voting would not be used for the presidential election on November 3, 2020.

LD 1803 was passed by the legislature on August 26, 2019. Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she would hold LD 1083 until the following year. By holding the bill until the next legislative session, LD 1083 did not go into effect until after the state’s presidential primary election on March 3, 2020.

The veto referendum would be the third ranked-choice voting ballot measure in Maine since 2016. Voters approved Question 5, which established a first-in-the-nation statewide system of ranked-choice voting, in 2016. In 2017, the legislature passed a bill that was written to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting unless the legislature referred and voters approved a constitutional amendment. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, which sponsored Question 5, launched a veto referendum campaign to overturn LD 1646. On the ballot as Question 1, the veto referendum was approved with 53.9 percent of the vote. Therefore, LD 1646 was repealed and ranked-choice voting remained in effect, except for general elections for state legislative and executive offices.

At the election on November 6, 2018, ranked-choice voting (RCV) was used for the first time in a general election. Both Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) won their respective seats without the need for ranked-choice tabulations. In the 2nd congressional district, the initial vote count showed that incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) had received 46.3 percent of the vote, and challenger Jared Golden (D) had received 45.6 percent of the vote. Independents received 8.1 percent of the vote. On November 15, 2018, Dunlap announced that after the lowest vote-getters were eliminated and votes were reallocated, incumbent Rep. Poliquin received 49.4 percent of the vote, and challenger Golden received 50.6 percent of the vote. The race was the first in U.S. history where ranked-choice voting was used to decide a congressional election.

Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts could also decide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in November. In Alaska, a measure is certified for the ballot that would, among other policies, establish ranked-choice voting for general elections. In Massachusetts, a ranked-choice voting campaign is expected to file a second round of signatures before the deadline on July 1, 2020.

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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