Indiana Supreme Court rules in Holcomb's favor in dispute over emergency powers bill

Attempt to limit Gov.'s powers during state of emergency is unconstitutional, justices say
Posted at 3:24 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 16:53:01-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled a measure by state lawmakers that sought to limit the powers of Gov. Eric Holcomb during a governor-declared state of emergency is unconstitutional.

All five court justices ruled in favor of Holcomb, who filed a lawsuit against the state legislature over House Bill 1123.

That bill was passed in the Statehouse last year because some Republicans were upset about the length of the statewide mask mandate and restrictions on business capacity during the pandemic.

Holcomb said the state's constitution gives him those powers and vetoed the bill in April this year. In response, the Republican supermajority voted to override the veto before their session ended. The measure would have given legislators more authority to intervene during a state of emergency.

"Simply put, absent a constitutional amendment under Article 16, the General Assembly cannot do what HEA-1123 permits. This does not, however, mean the Legislature lacks the constitutional authority to set additional sessions," Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in the opinion.

"While our Constitution authorizes only the Governor to call a special session, 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."

The opinion also states that allowing the Legislative Council to set an emergency session by simple resolution would violate the state's fixed-by-law requirement and infringe on constitutional authority only the Governor has by allowing the council to set an emergency session while the General Assembly is not in session.

"From the beginning, this case presented important procedural, statutory and Constitutional questions that only the courts could answer. Today, the Indiana Supreme Court has provided clarity and finality on these important issues. I appreciate the patience and humility Speaker Huston and Senator 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," Holcomb said in a statement following the court's decision.

The Indiana Democratic Party lauded the court's decision. Spokesman Drew Anderson said in a statement, "The Indiana Supreme Court has confirmed what more and more Hoosiers see everyday: the Indiana Republican Party's extremism and unnecessary purity tests are nothing but a waste of taxpayer money.

"Every year, the Indiana GOP pursues unpopular policies at the statehouse. Every time, Hoosiers are forced to foot the bill. It's time to elect more Democrats who actually want to solve kitchen-table issues and balance out our government, because Republicans have made it clear they have no vision to create a better future for Indiana."

Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement, "The Indiana Supreme Court provided answers to several areas of the law that the governor questioned. But in doing so, the court became a legislature today by overriding the intent of those who are directly elected by the people.

"The good news is the General Assembly can correct this. Fortunately, the court rejected the governor’s claim that the legislature could meet only once a year unless the governor — and only the governor — calls them into session. We will continue to fight for Hoosiers and to protect their liberties.”

Legislative leaders have maintained that the measure wasn't "anti-governor" and have praised Holcomb's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which health officials say has killed more than 13,000 people in the state.

WRTV Producer Ray Steele contributed to this report.