Attorney General Andy Beshear addressed the Kentucky Supreme Court in the Aug. 18 hearing on the UofL case. | Photo by Joe Sonka

The Kentucky Supreme Court dismissed Attorney General Andy Beshear’s lawsuit challenging Gov. Matt Bevin’s authority to abolish and recreate the University of Louisville board of trustees on Thursday, declaring that the matter was rendered moot due to the state legislature passing new legislation this year.

However, both the governor and the attorney general declared victory in the wake of the unanimous court decision, with Bevin claiming that it puts an end to Beshear “tossing the future of the University of Louisville around like a football,” while Beshear arguing that it confirmed Bevin may no longer use the same statute to abolish university boards in the future.

Bevin cited the KRS 12.028 statute last summer in his executive orders abolishing UofL’s board and replacing it with a new one of his own appointees, which drew the lawsuit by Beshear claiming the governor did not have the authority to use this statute on university boards.

Beshear won the case in Franklin Circuit Court last fall, with Judge Phillip Shepherd issuing an injunction that reinstalled the previous trustees to the board, which Bevin appealed. But in this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the legislature passed Senate Bill 12, which abolished UofL’s board once again and recreated a new board that mimicked the one Bevin had created in his orders.

In the oral arguments hearing before the Supreme Court in August, Bevin’s attorney Steve Pitt argued that this legislation — along with Senate Bill 107, allowing the governor to similarly reorganize university boards — rendered the case moot and therefore it should be dismissed.

Beshear countered that Bevin’s attorney was arguing that the governor still had the authority to reorganize university boards through KRS 12.028, and the court should definitely rule that he did not have such power in order to prevent the governor from doing so again. Beshear also argued that the accreditation issues of UofL — which was placed on probation by SACS in December due to Bevin’s actions — and potentially other public universities would be resolved if the court ruled that KRS 12.028 could not be used either last year or now.

In the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Milton, he wrote that “because the General Assembly passed both Senate Bills 12 and 107, it has displaced KRS 12.028 as it applies to the facts before us today,” and this “newly enacted specific statutory path controls over KRS 12.028.” The opinion also noted that “any future attempt to reorganize university boards must follow a new and distinct statutory scheme.”

In a press release from Bevin’s spokeswoman Amanda Stamper, she commended that Supreme Court’s decision and said that it “underscores the correctness of the Governor’s reorganization.” She added that “today puts an end to Attorney General Andy Beshear tossing the future of the University of Louisville around like a political football.”

Beshear’s statement countered that he viewed “today’s decision as a total win that protects Kentucky’s public universities, our students’ financial aid and the thousands of research jobs our public institutions support.”

“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,” stated Beshear. “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.”

The full opinion of the Kentucky Supreme Court can be read below:

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]