Supreme Court rules in Separation-of-Powers case

JULY 2020 UPDATE: NEVADA POLICY HAS FILED A NEW SEPARATION OF POWERS LAWSUIT!

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision that NPRI’s Separation of Powers lawsuit, Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al., was mooted by Sen. Mo Denis’ immediate resignation from his position with the Public Utilities Commission.

NPRI filed suit in November 2011 charging that Sen. Mo Denis was violating Article 3, Section 1, the separation-of-powers clause of Nevada’s Constitution, by simultaneously working in both the Executive and Legislative branches of Nevada government.

Within hours of being served with the initial Complaint in December 2011, state Sen. Mo Denis announced his resignation from his executive-branch employment with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. Despite the important principle at stake and well-established, applicable exceptions to the “mootness doctrine,” the Nevada Supreme Court declined to rule on the important constitutional issue at stake in the case. In affirming a lower court ruling that the case was mooted by Sen. Denis’ resignation, the Supreme Court also didn’t address the “substantial public-interest” exception to the mootness doctrine raised by the Plaintiff.

In response, Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, released the following comments:

It is unfortunate that the Court failed to address the “substantial public interest” exception to the mootness doctrine when ruling in the Pojunis v. State of Nevada, et al case.

Today’s decision focused only on the mootness issue, rather than on the merits of the separation-of-powers issue raised by the case. That issue is important because of the frequency with which Nevada politicians have exploited the court’s silence to amass personal — yet unconstitutional — power by simultaneously holding positions in separate branches and because of a long history of conflicting attorney general advisory opinions on this issue.

While Sen. Denis’ resignation from his executive-branch job with the Public Utilities Commission was a de facto admission that he had been violating the separation-of-powers clause, Nevadans would have benefitted from a clear Supreme Court ruling affirming this key constitutional principle.

The CJCL appeal also raised the issue of whether moneys paid by the state to Denis while he was unconstitutionally employed by the Public Utilities Commission and at the same time exercising power as a state lawmaker should be repaid. The court said that plaintiff/taxpayer Pojunis lacked standing to make such a request “because, even assuming that taxpayer standing is available in Nevada, his request would unwind the state’s previous expenditures….”

Because this constitutional violation is still occurring, Becker said that NPRI and its Center for Justice will continue to remain vigilant on this and other constitutional abuses by federal, state, and local governments.

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Media inquiries should be directed to Michael Schaus, NPRI's Communications Director.
michael@nevadapolicy.org
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