Consumer advocates asked the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday to reconsider a recent ruling that allows lawmakers to ignore requests for emails and other documents that are made under the state's public records law.
Court papers filed by the consumer groups and professional journalism organizations said the court's April ruling has broad implications that could be invoked by a wide array of state officials to refuse public records requests. That could include Gov. Mike Pence's executive branch, which has already argued that the ruling means it's also exempt from complying with requests for administration emails.
"If this ruling stands … Indiana state government will be able to block the access of the press and public to information critical to uncovering and exposing corruption," the court filing states.
Indiana's Public Records Act declares "it is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees."
In practice, however, lawmakers have long acted in a manner that goes against the stated intent off the law. Their actions were taken to court last year when consumer advocates sued the House Republican Caucus to obtain emails that House energy committee Chairman Eric Koch may have exchanged with Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power and Light.
The Bedford Republican, who has reported an economic interest in dozens of oil, gas and energy companies, sponsored an unsuccessful bill last year that would have cut how much utilities must pay for excess electricity generated by home solar power systems. Opponents of the bill said would eliminate the incentive to buy them.
First, a Marion County judge ruled that he could not interfere in the operation of the legislative branch. That decision was upheld when state Supreme Court justices issued their 4-1 ruling in April. The court found lawmakers were bound by the state's public records law, but they also ruled that the state constitution's separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government prevented them from ordering the release of Koch's emails.
Advocates argue in a court filing that the court's decision was vague, overly broad and could allow the Legislature to "hide from the public the very existence of correspondence with lobbyists."
But their request faces long odds. Last year, 13 similar requests were made with all but two denied, said Indiana University law professor Joel Schumm. He added that usually when the court agrees to a rehearing, "it's on a pretty narrow legal issue."
"It's extremely rare that a rehearing will be granted to change the outcome of the case," Schumm said.