Indiana court strikes down emergency law fought by governor

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Eric Holcomb

The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday threw out a law that gave state legislators increased power to intervene during public health emergencies, agreeing with arguments from Gov. Eric Holcomb that the move violated the state constitution.

The court’s unanimous decision settles a legal fight that began more than a year ago when Holcomb, a Republican, sued over a law that was a response to his efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new law gave legislative leaders authority to call the General Assembly into an “emergency session” if the governor declares a statewide emergency. The GOP-dominated Legislature approved it over Holcomb’s veto.

Holcomb’s lawyers contended that the state constitution allows only the governor to call the Legislature into meetings for consideration of new laws outside of its annual sessions that begin in early January and adjourn by the end of April.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush agreed, writing for the court that Holcomb’s attorneys had “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.

The high court’s ruling came after a Marion County judge sided with the Legislature in October.

Legislative leaders never tried to convene an emergency session under the law. Holcomb first issued a public health emergency in response to the pandemic on March 6, 2020, and terminated it this March. He had issued 23 monthly extensions, which drew the ire of many conservatives even though any mask mandates or business restrictions ended in spring 2021.

Under the law, it would be up to the Legislative Council—made up of eight senators and eight House members—to call an “emergency session” if it determined that the governor had declared a state of emergency with “statewide impact” and that “it is necessary for the General Assembly to address the state of emergency with legislative action.”

“From the beginning, this case presented important procedural, statutory and Constitutional questions that only the courts could answer,” Holcomb said in a written statement. “Today, the Indiana Supreme Court has provided clarity and finality on these important issues. I appreciate the patience and humility Speaker [Todd] Houston and Senator [Roderick] Bray have shown throughout the entire process, of which I always sought to match. With this critical matter resolved, we’ll continue focusing on building a prosperous state full of opportunity for all.”

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16 thoughts on “Indiana court strikes down emergency law fought by governor

    1. Because he is one of the few Republicans that read the Indiana Constitution?!?

    2. Vote out all the clownish Republican charlatans in the Indiana General Assembly who do not understand or care how the state constitution works. The Legislature had the entire 2021 and 2022 sessions to end the emergency order if it was such a concern to them. They chose not to do do so. Don’t let those losers in the General Assembly make a sucker out of you by convincing you Holcomb was in the wrong.

    1. It seems like Holcomb came out swinging and delivered a knock out on this one….

    2. Lack of bluster, asserting constitutional limits does make one a lightweight; in fact, quite the opposite. Will be a pleasure voting for Holcomb in whatever primary contest he next enters.

  1. Lost 5-0 and the preening Attorney General responded by attacking the Supreme Court. Rokita is who should be impeached.

    Just remind me, given that the legislature could’ve ended Holcomb’s state of emergency at any point during both the 2021 and 2022 sessions with a simple majority vote, why didn’t they do it?

    Your issue should be with your legislators but you’re going to send them back to the Statehouse so they can continue to lie to you and tell you what you want to hear, not the facts.

  2. Yet Rush grants herself the authority to issue “orders” on original actions without the constitutional requirement of a quorum of her fellow court members …

    1. So typical of today’s Republican Party. Always blaming someone else, claiming new and novel ways to claim something is illegal and weaken trust in government, never taking any blame for themselves.

      As someone with a teenager in the house, it’s all so familiar and ponderous.

      Again, the Legislature had the entire 2021 and 2022 sessions to end the emergency. Why didn’t they? Why is that not what people are mad about, their legislators failing to represent them, instead of whining about five Republican judges and Eric Holcomb?

    2. Eric, it was a unanimous decision…meaning all the court’s justices agreed with the governor’s position opposing the state legislature’s attempted power grab. And as is normal, the senior justice writes the opinion on behalf of the majority. In this case, that was the chief justice. If she had not been a part of a majority, she would have assigned the task of writing the opinion to the senior judge who was in the majority. It’s the same protocol that is used in the United States Supreme Court.

    3. I wasn’t talking about this case. I was talking about how the CJ said (correctly) the legislative council can’t legislate on its own while she issues orders on her own (without the full court) in original action cases contrary to the same constitution, which requires a quorum for action by the court.

      In other news, I bet Holcomb will name Forkner to the supreme court since the court ruled in his favor.

  3. Oh Joe B! Don’t you have another song? It’s always the Republicans Republicans Republicans. You need to hire somebody to write new material for you.

    1. Why hire someone when I’d just have to punch it up to my standards and fix all the errors?

      I’m still waiting for how our legislators are getting punished for failing to remove Holcomb’s executive orders. Best I can tell, the most notable Republicans to lose in the primary were Nisly and Jacob … the two who introduced legislation to drop the emergency orders on day 1 of their sessions … they got gassed by the Holcomb wing of the party. So, anyone want to tell me what this legislation was really about, outside of trying to appease an ever-growing number of Indiana legislators who are unserious politicians?

      My desire is simple – for the looney tunes wing of the Republican Party, the supposed populists who (spoiler alert) hate America, to be chased back into the shadows along with their terrible ideas recycled from the John Birch Society.

    2. Richard, because the state legislature is controlled by a Republican super majority (which pretty much lets it attempt whatever it pleases even if it violates the state constitution), well, that means it actually is always the Republicans Republicans Republicans.