A legal battle splits Republican party on emergency powers


A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

INDIANAPOLIS– Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb is filing a lawsuit against the General Assembly over a bill that addresses emergency powers. It’s called HEA 1123 and was vetoed earlier this month. Lawmakers voted to override it and the issue now heads to court.

The big question is whether lawmakers can legally call themselves into a special session during a statewide declared emergency.

Though these leaders share the same political party they, do not share the same interpretation of the state’s constitution.

“This is an incredibly historic moment,” said University of Indianapolis Political Science Professor Laura Wilson.

“Not surprised at all,” said State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, the Floor Minority Leader. “I saw it coming.”

Governor Holcomb has been clear since the start, he doesn’t think this legislation is constitutional and neither do democrats.

“It’s not necessarily siding with the governor,” said GiaQuinta. “It’s siding with the constitution and it’s clear that only the governor can call us into special session.”

Though republican legislative leadership has repeatedly said they believe Gov. Holcomb handled this pandemic well, they want to guarantee more say during emergencies in the future. Those opposed argue there isn’t time for a part-time legislature to make these calls.

“You can’t have 150 people trying to make these decisions that can change minute by minute, hour by hour certainly day by day,” said GiaQuinta.

Indiana isn’t the only state questioning the role of the governor during a pandemic. What may be unconstitutional here could be constitutional elsewhere.

“One of the really cool things about state constitutions is of course they are all quite different,” said Wilson.

She said we should all care about this lawsuit because it will determine who makes important decisions during an emergency.

“We’re talking about things like mask mandates or vaccine requirements,” explained Wilson.

House Speaker Todd Huston sent a statement saying, “Governor Holcomb has been transparent about his thoughts and intentions regarding House Enrolled Act 1123,” said Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers). “We are in consultation with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office on what the next steps will be in this matter.”

“The governor shared his intent to challenge the constitutionality of this law with me, and this is not unexpected,” added Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville). “As I have said before, there is a fundamental disagreement on the constitutionality of HEA 1123.”

There’s another layer to this legal battle. Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita denied a request from the governor to seek outside counsel but the governor did so anyway.

“We submitted a request to the attorney general for outside counsel, but it was denied,” said Governor Spokesperson Rachel Hoffmeyer. “However, we believe under the unique circumstance of this situation, that his approval is not necessary.”

AG Rokita said, “In declining to authorize outside counsel to represent the Governor here, the Office of the Attorney General is not beset by a conflict of interest but is instead fulfilling its core purpose—setting a single, unified legal position for the State as a whole. The Indiana Supreme Court has also held that no state agency or office holder may file a declaratory judgment action. Allowing state agencies to resort to the judicial system for review of every statute passed would foster legislative irresponsibility and unnecessarily overburden the courts into issuing, essentially, advisory opinions.”

We will continue following this process.

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