Governor Eric Holcomb will be allowed to challenge a law passed earlier this year by the Indiana General Assembly in court. Marion County Superior Court Judge Patrick Dietrick rejected a claim by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita that only he could file a lawsuit on behalf of the state.
In April, the governor filed a lawsuit against Republican legislative leaders after his veto of House Enrolled Act 1123 was overridden. The law gives the legislature the ability to call itself into a special session to review emergency orders.
The governor argues the Indiana Constitution gives the governor the sole power to call a special session. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment saying key provisions of the law are unconstitutional and a permanent injunction to prevent them from being used.
“In light of Governor Holcomb’s duty to protect the Indiana Constitution, and the inherent powers vested in him to do so…Governor Holcomb is both authorized, and required, to take actions necessary to protect the Indiana Constitution,” Dietrick said in his ruling. “Because his veto was overridden, this lawsuit is the only means for the Governor to do so.”
The ruling was made public on Tuesday after being signed by Dietrick on Saturday.
Dietrick ruled that Holcomb is able to hire outside counsel to file the lawsuit, citing a statute in Indiana law that was enacted prior to the creation of the attorney general’s office.
He says because the lawsuit involves state entities on both sides, Rokita “cannot represent two opposing parties in the same lawsuit” and that Rokita “has an irreconcilable conflict of interest” in this situation.
The judge also noted there are numerous state agencies and quasi-agencies, including the General Assembly itself, have the authority to hire independent counsel without the attorney general’s permission, including state universities.
Rokita announced Tuesday afternoon he has filed an appeal to the judge’s ruling. He says the question of who has authority to represent the state’s legal interests in court is “an issue of fundamental importance” to state government operation and the ruling also impacts the legislature’s ability to operate without the threat of litigation.
“The Attorney General’s Office has fought for the liberties of the people of Indiana for decades, using the very same precedents this court has now upended,” Rokita said. “The constitution belongs not to the Governor, the legislature, or the Attorney General, but to the people of Indiana. If left unchallenged, the court’s order in this case threatens to tip the balance of powers and undermine the individual liberties of the citizens of this state. As such, we have filed an appeal in the interest of protecting Hoosiers.”
You can read the Dietrick’s full ruling below: