A sad and blatantly unconstitutional chapter in the history of the Indiana General Assembly has thankfully come to a close, but not without wasting precious legislative and judicial time and hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
Last week, the Indiana Supreme Court rightfully and unanimously overturned a law unnecessarily passed by legislators more than a year ago that attempted to usurp the governor’s constitutional authority to call the Legislature into a special session and give that power to the Legislature itself.
The law was passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature in response to a conservative uproar over executive orders that Gov. Eric Holcomb had issued to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. And although Holcomb’s fellow Republican leaders in the Legislature said they supported the governor’s handling of the pandemic, they opted for unconstitutional pandering to appease a conservative base. That faction wanted the Legislature to intervene when the governor opted to limit some business operations and public gatherings during the height of the health crisis and while the Legislature was not in session.
Thankfully, the state’s high court—filled with fellow Republican appointees—saw right through the political shenanigans and overturned the law that was passed over the governor’s veto and justifiably prompted Holcomb to sue.
In a unanimous opinion, Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote that Holcomb’s lawyers “satisfied the high burden required to establish that the law is unconstitutional.”
“Under our Constitution, the General Assembly simply cannot do what the challenged law permits absent a constitutional amendment,” Rush added.
Despite the clear-cut and obvious outcome, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, whose office represented the Legislature in the dispute, still chided the court for its ruling.
“The court became a legislature today by overriding the intent of those who are directly elected by the people,” Rokita said in a statement.
The remarks are yet another apparent act of pandering to a conservative base when a statelier response is merited. In contrast, Republican House Speaker Todd Huston showed humility, saying he respected the court’s ruling.
The great irony of this whole sad chapter, though, is that if Republican legislative leaders had truly wanted to serve the more conservative elements of the GOP, they could have simply passed laws to thwart the governor’s health emergency orders during the 2021 legislative session. We’re not saying they should have. And apparently they didn’t want to.
Lawmakers also could have extended their regular legislative session beyond their established April deadline to keep a more careful watch over the governor’s actions. The Supreme Court said as much, noting “the General Assembly can set additional sessions—but only by fixing their length and frequency in a law passed during a legislative session and presented to the Governor.”
Instead, Republican legislative leadership tried to be too cute by half, taking state taxpayers on an unnecessary judicial ride that forced them to pay for legal representation on both sides of this court case–$519,000 for the governor’s lawyers and whatever time and money was spent by the attorney general to represent the Legislature.•
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