The Journal Gazette
Saturday, August 28, 2021 1:00 am

State's high court rules against Rokita in Holcomb lawsuit

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday decided not to get involved in a dispute between Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana legislature – at least not yet.

Attorney General Todd Rokita, representing the lawmakers, wanted the state's highest court to step in now instead of during an appeal.

Rokita had sought a writ of mandamus directly with the Indiana Supreme Court – an attempt to bypass a trial court that has ruled against him. He wanted the Indiana Supreme Court to order Marion Superior Court, which is hearing the case, to “cease all proceedings” in the lawsuit.

A narrow category of cases may be filed directly with the state supreme court, and the attorney general's office argued that some of the issues raised in Holcomb's lawsuit against the legislature meet that standard. But the court on Friday denied that request 4-1.

Holcomb sued the Indiana General Assembly in April after it passed a bill allowing lawmakers during a statewide emergency to call a special session. He alleges that House Enrolled Act 1123 is unconstitutional because the Indiana Constitution gives the power to call a special session to the governor.

A hearing in Marion Superior Court is scheduled for Sept. 10 on the merits of the case – whether the legislature overstepped its constitutional powers.

The bill was passed in response to the emergency orders Holcomb issued during the pandemic, which included mask mandates and limits on restaurant capacity.

Rokita has tried to stop the suit on grounds that Holcomb can't sue without the attorney general's permission. A Marion County judge ruled against that argument and denied a petition for an interlocutory appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Rokita also has sought a delay because the General Assembly is still in session. The legislature didn't adjourn as usual in April because members must redraw legislative districts in September. But they are not meeting or currently working.

“The plain text of both the Indiana Constitution and state statute requires postponement of any lawsuit during a session so that lawmakers may focus their attention on the legislative process,” Rokita said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the court did not give a reason for its decision, which was not unanimous.”

Rokita could still appeal the case after a trial judge rules.

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