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.”