All five Indiana Supreme Court judges side with Holcomb in special session dispute

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All five judges on the Indiana Supreme Court have sided with Gov. Eric Holcomb in a lawsuit that claimed a piece of legislation giving the General Assembly the ability to call itself into special sessions was unconstitutional.

Holcomb and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita's office were at odds over House Bill 1123, which was passed in the Statehouse in 2021. It gives the legislature the power to start a session after the governor has declared an emergency. Holcomb vetoed it last year, claiming it went against the Indiana Constitution, but the General Assembly overrode his veto.

“Government should serve as a steady foundation during a time of crisis,” Holcomb wrote in a letter to House Speaker Todd Huston in 2021, after the veto. “Avoidable legal challenges during a state of emergency will only serve to be disruptive to our state.”

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

Bill passed after executive order spree

The bill was passed by the Republican-dominated House and Senate as conservative legislators feared Holcomb was exerting to much authority over the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. He issued nearly 70 executive orders around public health in the year and a half after the pandemic broke out.

But Holcomb claimed the ability to call a special legislative session was a power vested exclusively in the executive branch. He hired private attorneys to file a lawsuit against the legislature — a move that was challenged by the Indiana Attorney General's Office, which claimed only it could represent the state in legal disputes.

Related: Indiana Supreme Court questions Holcomb's attorneys, AG's office over emergency powers law

A Marion County judge sided against Rokita's office, which represented the legislature in court, and allowed Holcomb to continue his lawsuit. But the judge also found that the law was constitutional, leading Holcomb to appeal his petition up to the state's supreme court.

"Simply put, absent a constitutional amendment ... the General Assembly cannot do what HEA-1123 permits," Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in the Friday 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," Rush continued.

Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at jmagdaleno@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Supreme Court sides with Holcomb in special sessions dispute