Nevada Supreme Court has come down strongly for separation of powers

One of the citations offered by the Nevada Policy Research Institute in its lawsuit seeking to enforce the state Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause and ban public employees from serving in the Legislature is a 1967 Supreme Court ruling titled Galloway v. Truesdell.

NPRI sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert, who also is employed as a flack for the University of Nevada, Reno, arguing she can’t hold both jobs because the Constitution says a person exercising power in one branch of government may not perform any functions in another branch.

The 1967 case does not involve one person serving in two branches but it does address the constitutionality of whether a person serving in one branch may also exercise powers constitutionally assigned to another.

The court found the law that dictated that judges should determine who may perform marriage ceremonies was unconstitutional under the Separation of Powers Clause. The court concluded: “NRS 122.070 is unconstitutional and void because it violates Article 3, Section 1, and Article 6, Section 6, of the Nevada Constitution by imposing legislative, administrative, ministerial, and investigative functions upon the District Courts and District Judges that are non-judicial in character and are unauthorized.”

The opinion quotes liberally from a series of articles by Arthur Vanderbilt, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey:

“Individual freedom and the progress of civilization are attainable, but only if each of the three branches of government conforms to the constitutional principles of the separation of powers. This they will do only if the people so will. The problem in the first instance thus becomes one of popular education in the fundamental principles of free government. Among these principles there is none more significant today than the doctrine of the separation of powers.”

It also quotes Montesquieu:

“Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would be the legislator: Were it joined to the executive power the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.”

The court further quotes the Latin maxim “expressio unius est exclusio alterius,” which means the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another, and noted that it had ruled in an earlier case:

“It is true that the constitution does not expressly inhibit the power which the legislature has assumed to exercise, but an express inhibition is not necessary. The affirmation of a distinct policy upon any specific point in a state constitution implies the negation of any power in the legislature to establish a different policy. `Every positive direction contains an implication against anything contrary to it which would frustrate or disappoint the purpose of that provision. The frame of the government, the grant of legislative power itself, the organization of the executive authority, the erection of the principal courts of justice, create implied limitations upon the law-making authority as strong as though a negative was expressed in each instance.'”

Separation of powers is a fundamental and recognized law of the land as expressly stated by the Nevada Constitution. To find otherwise is a farce and a canard.

 

Newspaper column: Why separation of powers must be enforced in Nevada

Assembly Bill 121 is Exhibit A in the case for finally enforcing the state constitutional mandate for separation of powers, such that each branch of government may provide checks and balances to prevent the abuse that results when power is concentrated in too few hands.

The bill — introduced in Carson City by Democratic Las Vegas Assemblyman Steve Yeager — would wipe out much of the progress made in 2015 in public employee collective bargaining reforms.

Yeager, who also happens to be a Clark County public employee, would erase a provision in the law that prohibits paying union officials from public coffers for time spent doing union business. It also negates a provision blocking pay increases after a union contract has expired and before a new one is inked. It further requires any new contract to be retroactive to the expiration date of the previous contract — greatly reducing incentives for union members to accept a lower offer.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert sits in the Legislature. (R-J pix)

State Sen. Heidi Gansert sits in the Legislature. (R-J pix)

The bill is redistributionism. Taking from the taxpayers to line the pockets of public employee union members.

Yeager is employed by the Clark County Public Defenders Office, whose union contract expires in June.

The state of Nevada operates under the Dillon Rule, which limits the power of local governments to those expressly granted by the Legislature, meaning local governments are basically subsidiaries of the state and employees of those local governments, such as Yeager, essentially are serving in the executive branch of state government.

Which brings us to Article 3 of the Nevada Constitution, which states: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

Therefore, Yeager, while currently serving in the Legislature, is also a member of the executive branch and, since he works in the court system, he is an employee of the judicial branch — a triple threat!

Such ignoring of explicit requirements of the state Constitution has been ongoing for decades and currently there are several lawmakers whose day jobs are with a local government.

In 2011, the libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, filed suit against state Sen. Mo Denis because he also was an employee of the state Public Utilities Commission, and had been for 17 years.

Denis immediately resigned from his $56,000-a-year state job in order to maintain his part-time $10,000-every-other-year state senator post, and a judge declared the lawsuit moot.

A week ago CJCL filed a similar suit against state Sen. Heidi Gansert, who holds a $210,000-a-year in pay and benefits public relations job with the University of Nevada, Reno.

 “Gansert’s continued employment in the state’s executive branch, as Executive Director of External Relations for the University of Nevada, Reno, puts her in direct violation of Nevada’s Separation of Powers clause, now that she is also serving in the state senate,” CJCL Director Joseph Becker said in a press release reporting on the litigation. “As a senator, she can simply not continue her employment in the executive branch without violating this clearly worded constitutional provision.”

In a statement Gansert called the suit meritless and said, “Nevada has an unambiguous precedent of legislators taking time off from their jobs in higher education to serve the people of the state.”

Of the unambiguous Separation of Powers clause, Becker said it was designed to preserve the independence and integrity of each branch, and having a legislator make decisions that might directly benefit employees of another branch creates a clear conflict of interest.

As witness AB121.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1784: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. … An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.