Lawsuit

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers an update on the proposed two-year state budget April 20. With him are, from left, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston. Holcomb is now suing both men and the rest of the Indiana General Assembly over what he says is an unconstitutional power grab.

In a COVID-19 twist where Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has been the subject of lawsuits related to his restrictions on businesses, the governor is suing the General Assembly for limiting those powers.

Holcomb, in his capacity of governor, April 27 had a lawsuit filed in Marion County Circuit Court by attorney John C. Trimble of Indianapolis’ Lewis Wagner, LLP. The lawsuit also names specifically as defendants Rodric Bray, the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate, and Todd Huston, the Speaker of the Indiana State House of Representatives. Bray and Huston are both on the Indiana Legislative Council, “a 16-member committee of the General Assembly tasked with various responsibilities under the Indiana Code,” the lawsuit notes.

At issue is the constitutionality of a governor’s powers during a crisis. Holcomb says in the lawsuit that he swore an oath to the state constitution, and that by passing House Enrolled Act 1123, “the General Assembly has impermissibly attempted to give itself the ability to call special sessions, thereby usurping a power given exclusively to the governor under Article 4 § 9 of the Indiana Constitution.”

Holcomb had vetoed the bill April 9, but the legislature then overrode his veto April 15. The General Assembly adjourned April 22.

On March 6, 2020, well over a year ago, Holcomb declared that a public health emergency existed in the state, which still is in force. Holcomb has been acting under “his executive powers, including the Indiana Emergency Management & Disaster Law,” according to the lawsuit. Citing both the 1816 and 1851 state constitutions, the lawsuit says that the General Assembly is part time but the governor, not the General Assembly, has the power to convene the body for the public welfare.

On the contrary, “HEA 1123 amends the Indiana Code to allow the General Assembly, through its Legislative Council, to declare an ‘emergency session’ of the General Assembly when a state of emergency has been declared by a governor.”

Doing so crosses the boundaries of the responsibilities of the three separate government divisions: the legislative, the executive including the administrative, and the judicial, according to the lawsuit.

Holcomb asks a trial court judge to find key provisions of HEA 1123 unconstitutional and to issue a permanent injunction to prevent the state from being used.

“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Indiana and I have an obligation do so. This filing is about the future of the executive branch and all the Governors who will serve long after I’m gone,” Holcomb said in a written statement about the lawsuit.

Holcomb has faced lawsuits from restaurants because of COVID-19 restrictions that he set in place to slow the contraction of the virus.

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