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:
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.”
Holcomb issued this statement after the ruling:
“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 Houston 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.”
Rokita shared this 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.“