INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court sided with Gov. Eric Holcomb in an emergency powers dispute over a law allowing the General Assembly to call its own special session.
In a ruling handed down Friday, the state’s highest court said House Enrolled Act 1123 was unconstitutional.
“Under our Constitution, the General Assembly simply cannot do what the challenged law permits absent a constitutional amendment,” the ruling said.
Lawmakers approved the bill in 2021. Holcomb vetoed it, calling into question its constitutionality, and taking the issue to the court. The governor maintained that Indiana’s Constitution allows only the governor to call a special session.
The court ultimately agreed that the law was unconstitutional:
By allowing the Legislative Council to set an emergency session by simple resolution, HEA-1123 violates Article 4, Section 9’s fixed-by-law requirement. And, by permitting the Legislative Council to set an emergency session at a time when the General Assembly is not in session, HEA-1123 infringes on constitutional authority vested only in the Governor and thus violates Article 3, Section 1. Simply put, absent a constitutional amendment under Article 16, the General Assembly cannot do what HEA-1123 permits.
The measure arose from criticism of Holcomb’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including his decision to institute a statewide mask mandate and other restrictions.
Attorney General Todd Rokita sided with legislators on the issue and unsuccessfully argued that courts couldn’t consider the governor’s lawsuit. Rokita maintained that only the attorney general had the authority to represent the state in court and can decide if a new law is constitutional.
The Indiana Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous. The ruling did note that the legislature has the authority to set additional sessions, but only by “fixing their length and frequency in a law passed during a legislative session and presented to the Governor.”
Gov. Holcomb issued a statement, which reads:
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.
Lawmakers can call a special session by passing a law that calls one. The measure under review did it via a resolution, the ruling noted, which was not within the bounds of the state constitution.
Rokita also issued a statement, saying:
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.
House Speaker Todd Huston released the following statement:
I respect the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion on House Enrolled Act 1123 and we’ll consider all options moving forward.
From Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray:
We are still in the process of reviewing the opinion, and while I am disappointed in the outcome of the lawsuit, I respect the Supreme Court’s decision. We will work collaboratively to find a way forward that serves the best interests of the State of Indiana.
Drew Anderson, a spokesman of the Indiana Democratic Party, also weighed in:
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.