Politics

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has ruled in favor of Gov. Matt Bevin in a legal challenge over whether he had the authority to overhaul the University of Louisville’s board of trustees last year.

The high court said the issue was moot because the state legislature approved legislation effectively codifying Bevin’s restructuring of the board earlier this year.

“It is for this reason — a deliberate action by the General Assembly intervening to provide greater clarity of law — that the case today is moot,” the court said in an order dismissing the case.

The ruling is a victory for Bevin, who argued that the issue was moot in the wake of this year’s legislative action.

This year the Republican-led state legislature approved Senate Bill 12, codifying Bevin’s executive order that overhauled the board. It also approved Senate Bill 107, which gave Bevin broad power to remove trustees in cases of “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty.”

Bevin abolished the U of L board in June 2016, claiming it was “dysfunctional” and sacking its 17 trustees, which had been appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Divisions had emerged on the board between supporters and detractors of the school’s then-president James Ramsey. As part of the leadership shakeup, Bevin also announced Ramsey would offer his resignation and created a smaller board of trustees with new members.

Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Bevin over the move and a trial court eventually ruled against Bevin, saying the governor didn’t have the authority to dismiss trustees without cause before the end of their appointed terms.

After the ruling was published, Beshear still said the decision was a “total win” because the Supreme Court didn’t refuse the lower court’s ruling.

“Under the Supreme Court’s ruling, Gov. Bevin can no longer use the reorganization statute to dissolve a university board, an action that had dire consequences for the University of Louisville,” Beshear said.

“This ruling will protect the accreditation of all Kentucky universities going forward. As to Gov. Bevin’s previous action against the University of Louisville, the Supreme Court did not refute the circuit court’s ruling that the governor violated the law. Instead, they found that the General Assembly bailed him out.”

Beshear has sued Bevin four times, three of the challenges involve Bevin’s authority to reorganize boards that govern state agencies.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put U of L’s accreditation on probation in the wake of Bevin’s actions last year, citing “undue political influence” in the school’s governance.

According to the Louisville Cardinal, U of L’s student newspaper, SACS conducted visited the school as part of an accreditation review last week.

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