Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear will square off before the Kentucky Supreme Court on Friday in a case dealing with how much power the governor has to reshape state university boards.

Bevin has appealed a lower court’s ruling that he didn’t have the authority to overhaul the University of Louisville board of trustees.

Bevin abolished U of L’s governing board last year, severing the four-year terms of the 15 appointed members of the panel, which he called “dysfunctional.”

As part of the leadership shakeup, Bevin also said he reached an agreement with then-U of L President James Ramsey, who said he would offer his resignation to the new board once it reassembled.

Bevin then created a new board and appointed new members and Ramsey later resigned.

Beshear sued Bevin over the move and Franklin Circuit Court Judge Philip Shephard ruled against the governor, calling the overhaul an “unprecedented assertion of executive power.”

Bevin cites a state law that allows governors to temporarily abolish state boards while the legislature isn’t in session, arguing that it applies to university boards as well.

“If the General Assembly had intended to exempt university boards from the Governor’s reorganization powers, or if it had intended to prohibit reorganizations that result in newly appointed university board members, it would have said so,” Bevin’s attorney wrote in a legal brief.

The governor’s office also argues that the case is moot because the legislature effectively replicated Bevin’s reorganization during this year’s legislative session.

“Nothing that the Court might say about the legality of the executive order at issue here will make any difference because that order has been superseded by Senate Bill 12,” the brief states.

The legislature also passed a law giving the governor broad authority to reshape university boards and remove board members in cases of “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty.”

Meanwhile, the attorney general points to a state law that protects university board members from removal without cause.

“…[A] governor could not unilaterally remove a trustee, but must identify specific reasons that can be contested in an evidentiary hearing,” the attorney general wrote in a legal brief.

A ruling on the case won’t change the membership of U of L’s board of trustees, but could have implications for how much power the governor has to unilaterally reshape state boards.

The legal challenge is one of four lawsuits Beshear has filed against Bevin, three of which have to do with the governor’s reorganization powers.

Last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Bevin didn’t have the authority to reduce the amount of money appropriated to state universities without going through the legislature’s budgeting process.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.