Timothy Noah is a left-of-center journalist and author who writes for MSNBC.com. Earlier in his career Noah worked for Slate and the New Republic. This morning, he is warning Democrats that the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry probably will not lead to a criminal conviction. From the ThinkProgress article cited above:
The indictment lists two state laws which Perry allegedly violated. The first is a vague statute prohibiting public servants from “intentionally or knowingly . . . misuse[ing] government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” The second is a somewhat more specific law prohibiting anyone from using coercion to “influence or attempt to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influence or attempt to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty.”
Even if Perry’s actions fall within these statutes, however, the special prosecutor bringing these charges may need to overcome a significant constitutional obstacle. In a statement released Friday evening, Perry’s attorney claims that “[t]he veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution.” She may have a point.
The Texas Constitution gives the governor discretion to decide when to sign and when to veto a bill, as well as discretion to veto individual line-items in an appropriation bill. Though the state legislature probably could limit this veto power in extreme cases — if a state governor literally sold his veto to wealthy interest groups, for example, the legislature could almost certainly make that a crime — a law that cuts too deep into the governor’s veto power raises serious separation of powers concerns. Imagine that the legislature passed a law prohibiting Democratic governors from vetoing restrictions on abortion, or prohibiting Republican governors from vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood. Such laws would rework the balance of power between the executive and the legislature established by the state constitution, and they would almost certainly be unconstitutional.