Indiana governor undecided on appeal of emergency law ruling
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s governor said Friday that he will take as much time as he needs to decide whether to continue his court fight against a new law giving state legislators more power to intervene during public health emergencies.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has maintained that the law violates a state constitutional provision allowing only the governor to call the Legislature into a special session after its regular annual session that begins in early January concludes by the end of April.
A Marion County judge, however, upheld the law Thursday, ruling that the state constitution gives the General Assembly the authority to determine when and for how long it will meet.
Holcomb said he and his attorneys were reviewing the ruling and hadn’t decided whether they will appeal to a higher court.
“I’m very open minded at this,” Holcomb said. “We’ve got time to make a very informed decision and we’ll use as much time as we need.”
The Republican-dominated Legislature advanced the law following criticism from conservatives over the statewide mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions that Holcomb imposed by executive order. Holcomb’s lawsuit argued that the law passed this spring over his veto violates the Constitution by giving legislative leaders the authority to call lawmakers into an “emergency session” after a governor has declared a statewide emergency.
Republican legislative leaders have maintained that the measure wasn’t “anti-governor” and praised Holcomb’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which health officials say has killed nearly 16,000 people in the state over the past 20 months.
“Though we have disagreed with the governor regarding this law, we have and will continue to work with him and his office in order to serve the people of Indiana,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said in a statement Friday.
Some legal experts anticipate the dispute will ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.
Marion County Judge Patrick Dietrick ruled that the governor’s constitutional power to call the Legislature into a special session was necessary when lawmakers were limited before the 1970s to meeting every other year for a maximum of 61 days.
But constitutional amendments approved by statewide referendums in 1970 and 1984 removed those limits and the “emergency session” law is a “straightforward exercise of the General Assembly’s authority,” Dietrick wrote.
Republican state Attorney General Todd Rokita has sided with legislators in defending the new law. The attorney general’s office called Dietrick’s ruling “an important win for the separation of powers” between the state’s executive and legislative branches.
Holcomb said he and his lawyers would make a careful review of the judge’s ruling and its impact on the authority of the governor’s office.
“This was always a respectful disagreement with the Legislature about the constitutional ramifications, for not just this administration but future ones,” Holcomb said.
The Legislature’s longstanding powers include the authority to terminate emergency orders issued by the governor. Numerous Republican lawmakers sponsored such resolutions during this year’s session, but legislative leaders didn’t advance any of them for votes before the regular legislative session ended in April.