INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday called out Attorney General Todd Rokita as part of state Republicans’ constitutional infighting over a new law about emergency powers.
House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1123 created a way for lawmakers to convene an emergency session when the governor declares a state of emergency. The law came after some legislators expressed the need for more authority to intervene as the governor issued emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Holcomb and some legal experts have questioned the law’s legality because the Indiana Constitution gives the governor — not the legislature — the authority to call a special session.
As part of a conference committee report, the House on April 5 adopted the law 64-33; the Senate vote was 37-10.
Holcomb vetoed the bill April 9, and the legislature on April 15 overturned that veto, with a 59-26 vote in the House, and a 36-8 vote in the Senate.
On April 27, Holcomb filed a lawsuit against Senate President Rodric Bray and Speaker of the House Todd Huston. The governor asked Marion Superior Court 12 to review the law and issue a permanent injunction to keep it from being used. As of Monday, the court has set no dates to hear the case.
On April 30, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita asked the court to throw out Holcomb’s lawsuit, saying his office should resolve the matter and the governor did have Rokita’s permission to hire outside attorneys.
Holcomb’s lawyer filed a 31-page response to Rokita on Monday. The response begins, “Contrary to the assertion of Attorney General Rokita, this is not a case of a governor suing the legislature ‘over laws he doesn’t like.'”
The governor’s response also says, “Notably, Attorney General Rokita does not seek to intervene in this lawsuit to represent the Governor or pursue his claims. Rather, he takes the remarkable position that he, as Attorney General, has the sole right and power to determine whether HEA 1123 is constitutional. If, in his judgment, he determines it is constitutional, then, in his view, he has the authority to block the Governor from obtaining legal representation and redress.”
The response concludes, in part, “By attempting to remove Governor Holcomb’s counsel and insert himself in their place, Attorney General Rokita seeks to constrain the Governor’s attempt to prevent the General Assembly from usurping his constitutional powers.”
This year’s legislative session has never officially adjourned because of the state’s continuing coronavirus emergency, and because lawmakers had awaited census numbers to redistrict the state’s U.S. congressional districts and the state Senate and House’s districts.