Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is asking the state’s Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that upheld limits on the governor’s emergency powers.
The appeal comes as President Joe Biden, Congress, governors, state legislatures, mayors, and local lawmakers across the United States battle over their proper respective roles in dealing with the CCP virus, the pathogen that causes the disease COVID-19.
State governors across the country have come under particularly heavy political fire for, in the views of their critics, embracing authoritarianism by seizing extraordinary emergency powers, particularly related to business- and lifestyle-related pandemic regulations, and failing to hold themselves accountable. In the nearby states of Wisconsin and Michigan, Democratic governors have been accused of overreach, and some of their emergency powers have been taken away.
Indiana’s Republican governor is suing fellow Republicans state Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray and state House Speaker Todd Huston over a statute known as HEA 1123, which Holcomb is arguing violates the Indiana Constitution’s separation-of-powers provisions.
Conservative lawmakers spearheaded the legislation, which establishes a new process for the General Assembly to order an emergency legislative session to consider action aimed at countering a governor’s declaration of a statewide emergency. The aim of the measure is to curb the governor’s power to unilaterally decree long-term emergency restrictions, such as lockdowns and the mandatory wearing of face masks.
“Our forefathers never anticipated the unilateral actions of one person to spend billions of tax dollars,” state Sen. Susan Glick, a Republican, told reporters in March.
Holcomb is claiming that the General Assembly “improperly usurped” his authority as governor, according to court documents. The statute, approved in April, gives the General Assembly’s bipartisan Legislative Council the power to call an emergency session of the state Legislature.
Indiana is one of 15 states that restrict the ability of a legislature to initiate a special session, giving such authority exclusively to the governor, Holcomb said.
He is arguing that the state constitution vests that authority in his office and that if lawmakers wanted to obtain the right to call an emergency session, they needed to amend the constitution.
“The Court need look no further than Kentucky to see what our General Assembly could have done,” the governor said in a court filing. “Kentucky’s Constitution, like Indiana’s, expressly vests the authority [to] call a special session only in its governor.”
Lawmakers there approved an amendment to that state’s constitution to give the legislature the power to call such a session. The amendment has yet to be voted on by Kentucky voters.
But on Oct. 7, Marion County Superior Judge Patrick Dietrick issued an order declaring that HEA 1123 was constitutional.
“The Indiana Supreme Court has long recognized that the power to schedule legislative sessions is inherently legislative,” the judge wrote.
Holcomb said Dietrick’s ruling was wrong.
“This lawsuit is about making sure that state government operates the way our constitution outlines,” Holcomb said in a statement. “Our state, and its people, deserve clarity and finality on this important issue, which is why I am filing an appeal today.”
A spokesperson for Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican who’s defending the interests of the General Assembly in the lawsuit, said the governor is mistaken.
“All along, the governor has said he just wanted his question answered,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
“He got his answer. Turns out he didn’t like the answer. So, now the taxpayers have to continue to be on the hook for his lawsuit. Just as concerning is his new legal theory asking the court to make our legislators do what Kentucky does. Since when do Hoosiers follow what Kentucky does?”
Holcomb argued in court documents that the dispute needs to be resolved urgently.
“If, as Governor Holcomb firmly believes, the General Assembly has impermissibly usurped his constitutional authority, then each day that goes by without that constitutional violation being remedied is an affront to the Indiana Constitution. This case involves a grave constitutional issue that should be resolved as soon as practicable,” the documents read.
Holcomb signed Executive Order 20-02 on March 6, 2020, declaring a public health emergency in the state as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The governor has extended the official state of emergency repeatedly, most recently on Sept. 30, when he signed Executive Order 21-27, extending it through Oct. 31.