In December, Gov. Matt Bevin put one hand on a Bible, held up the other and pledged to “faithfully execute to the best of your ability, the office of Governor according to law.”
Bevin’s recent ravings about the Kentucky Supreme Court call into question his ability and commitment to that solemn oath.
The governor and his legal counsel, Stephen Pitt, could help rectify that image by accepting Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s ruling yesterday saying Bevin did not have the authority to unilaterally dissolve the University of Louisville Board of Trustees and name a new board.
As a practical matter, Bevin retains enormous power over the existing board, with five spots he can, and should, fill immediately. That’s a significant portion of the 20-member board and Bevin, still in the first year of his term, will have more appointments as vacancies occur.
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As a legal matter, Bevin’s chances of prevailing if he appeals Shepherd’s ruling seem dim.
Shepherd pointed out there is no political precedent for Bevin’s actions, no reading of Kentucky law that allows it and no court holding that supports it.
But Bevin’s harsh criticism of the Supreme Court last Friday after it ruled in another case leaves little hope that he will see reason and recognize the rule of law.
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the governor lacked the power to unilaterally withhold $18 million appropriated for public universities when there is no state revenue shortfall.
Bevin — who has assailed university presidents as “crybabies” and “whiners” for complaining about his cuts — did some heavy duty whining of his own on WHAS radio as he proclaimed that only he knows what’s best for Kentucky, which laws apply to him and how they should be interpreted.
It’s not at all clear that Bevin had read the 65-page opinion when he said, “the point of a ruling is to uphold the law, to not create new law from the bench, not to invent new rules, but to apply those laws that actually exist and to look at case precedent.”
Justice Mary Noble’s well-researched and thoughtfully reasoned opinion digs deep into legal history and Kentucky law to both support and explain the holding that Bevin acted incorrectly. Remarkably, though, Bevin said the court “decided to invent new rules on the spot.”
Bevin, elected as a Republican, came out of the Tea Party movement that seeks to limit both the power and size of government. But his actions as governor have seemed aimed not at shrinking government but at consolidating all its power into his own hands.