Stand Above the Political Mire on Ground of Authority
We’re right, I think to take a moment to flag the suspicious belief of the Rhode Island judiciary that processes must default in the favor of the state’s special interests while the judges have their moment to review and direct the minute management details of the government’s operation. Layman that I am, it’s entirely possible that I’m missing some nuance (or even misreading the legal arguments), but yesterday’s court proceedings trace as follows:
- Superior Court Associate Justice Michael Silverstein ruled that the clock did not allow him sufficient time to hear and consider the arguments for and against halting the implementation of Governor Carcieri’s executive order for government shutdown days, but that he considered precedent for issuing a stay on judicial action (i.e., allowing the shutdown day to proceed) pending arbitration to be clear, and he did so (PDF). He also allowed that, should the Supreme Court immediately vacate his stay, he would begin hearings with the intention of reaching a decision about halting the shutdown day sometime in the afternoon.
- The union lawyers ran to the Supreme Court.
- Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg stated that the Superior Court judge “failed to address plaintiffs’ request for temporary and preliminary injunctive relief to stay, pending arbitration, the implementation of Executive Order 09-20.” She thereupon, without argument, granted the unions’ request to halt the shutdown and brought the case into the Supreme Court’s hands for September 11 review (PDF).
- Governor Carcieri stated that he’s been left with no alternative other than layoffs and has asked his department heads to compile a list of the state’s 1,000 most recent hires for the purpose of beginning layoff notifications.
Again, speaking as a layperson, McKenna Goldberg’s reasoning strikes me as inaccurate to the point of dishonesty and the related ruling as predetermined. Silverstein didn’t fail to address the unions’ request; he failed to grant it, and that outcome shouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion. That said, let’s be honest about the effect: If the Supreme Court finds in the governor’s favor, then the state can still schedule its twelve shutdown days, albeit perhaps with an additional speed bump of arbitration. Of course, as time passes, the number of days without employees becomes more disruptive, but the judiciary hasn’t yet issued an opinion on the executive’s authority.
The most destructive outcome, in my opinion, is the continued operation of state government as if its purpose is to produce cliffhangers to bring us to the edge of our seats for the commercial breaks. What will the legislature do? What will the governor do? What will the unions and the courts do? Oh, the drama!
What we need is consistent, predictable leadership. The governor should already have had in his hand a list of every state employee in the order in which they would be laid off, as well as deadlines by which the state’s dramatists in the legislature, unions, and courts would have to conclude their performances in order to prevent the pink slips from flowing.
Right now, the process is a deck of reactive wildcards, and it’s little wonder that all of the decision makers think they can leave the governor holding the political bag. He could completely turn the cards on them, though, if he articulated his understanding of his responsibilities and authority — “if not shutdowns, I can only begin firing” — and broadcast the next step before each milestone in the wrangling process.
To some extent, that’s what he’s done, but his method has left the arrow pointing at him as the most recent entity to make a decision. Post the list online. Draw red lines after the appropriate employees, marking how much money must be saved by which date in order to prevent all employees above the line from losing their jobs. And, while we’re at it, bring some other wish-list items into the spotlight — explaining, for example, that only the legislature can halt certain costly mandates and giveaways.
If anything has become clear over the past few years, it is that Rhode Islanders cannot, as a body, infer cause and effect beyond the previous day’s news cycle and the next day’s revenue report. Let’s bring transparency to the next level: namely, describing what will happen in the future. If the judges find that the governor doesn’t have the authority to do X unilaterally, and if the relevant special interest won’t agree to do X mutually, all by a certain date, then Y will be the consequence.