On January 29, 2024, the Idaho Supreme Court issued an opinion in Idaho State Athletic Commission v. Office of the Administrative Rules Coordinator. In the decision, the Court held that it does not have original jurisdiction to decide declaratory actions and affirmed the Legislature’s power to pre-approve rules promulgated by executive agencies.

The facts. In 2023, the Legislature adjourned sine die without approving the Idaho State Athletic Commission’s 2022 proposed rules. Because of the Idaho Administrative Procedure Act’s “legislative pre-approval process,” the Legislature’s failure to approve the Athletic Commission’s 2022 proposed rules meant the rules expired. After its 2022 rules expired, the Athletic Commission asked the Office of the Administrative Rules Coordinator to publish the 2022 rules. The Rules Coordinator declined to do so. The Athletic Commission then filed an original action in the Idaho Supreme Court seeking a declaration that the legislative pre-approval process is unconstitutional and seeking a writ of mandamus requiring the Rules Coordinator to publish the 2022 rules.

The issues. This post focuses on two issues in the Court’s decision: (1) whether the Court has original jurisdiction to issue declaratory actions under the Declaratory Judgment Act, and (2) whether the legislative pre-approval process is constitutional.

The result. On the first issue, the Court held it does not have original jurisdiction over claims brought under the Declaratory Judgment Act. The Idaho Constitution (Article V, § 9) gives the Court original jurisdiction “to issue writs of mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, and habeas corpus, and all writs necessary or proper to the complete exercise of its appellate jurisdiction.” Overruling precedent that suggested otherwise, the Court clarified that the Idaho Constitution sets the outer limits on the Court’s original jurisdiction. As a result, the Court does not have original jurisdiction to resolve claims brought under the Declaratory Judgment Act because that authority is not enumerated in Article V, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution. That said, the Court does have original jurisdiction to issue a declaration of law when necessary to adjudicate a claim for one of the enumerated writs.

On the second issue, the Court held the legislative pre-approval process is constitutional. The Athletic Commission challenged the legislative pre-approval process citing several constitutional provisions, but the overarching principle in the Court’s rejection of those arguments is that the Legislature has the power to approve rules promulgated by executive agencies because the Legislature itself granted the executive agencies the power to promulgate the rules. In other words, an executive agency’s power to promulgate rules flows from the Legislature, thus the Legislature, as the source of the rulemaking power, can continue to regulate how the rulemaking power is exercised. While that principle is a function of the statutory delegation of rulemaking power, it is also reflected in Idaho’s Constitution (Art. III, § 9), which says: “The legislature may review any administrative rule to ensure it is consistent with the legislative intent of the statute that the rule was written to interpret, prescribe, implement or enforce.”

Practice Pointers:

  1. Although the Idaho Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act, the Court can still exercise its power to declare a statute unconstitutional if necessary to issue the enumerated writs in Article V, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution. For the Court to exercise its original jurisdiction to issue an extraordinary writ, the petitioner typically must not have a “plain, speedy, and adequate alternative remedy.” While a litigant can ask the Court to declare a statute unconstitutional when petitioning for an extraordinary writ, now that claims under the Declaratory Judgment Act are not properly brought to the Idaho Supreme Court in the first instance, a litigant may need to explain why seeking a declaratory judgment in the trial court is not a “plain, speedy, and adequate alternative remedy.”
  2. In holding that the Declaratory Judgment Act does not grant the Idaho Supreme Court original jurisdiction, the Court overruled past precedent without analyzing stare decisis principles. That move may suggest the Court has less concern for stare decisis if it determines constitutional text clearly contradicts its precedent.
  3. The Court reaffirmed that arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief will not be considered on appeal.