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Political Litigation

Court Will Let Indiana Gov. Holcomb Pursue Private Lawsuit Against General Assembly

— July 6, 2021

Holcomb filed a private lawsuit challenging the state General Assembly’s passage of a bill restricting his emergency powers.

A Marion County judge will let Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb proceed with a lawsuit against the state’s General Assembly, which passed a bill broadly restricting the governor’s emergency powers earlier this year.

Earlier this year, Holcomb—a Republican—broke with members of his own party, using his gubernatorial privilege to enact statewide mask mandates and business restrictions, all intended to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.

However, many conservative members of the state assembly felt that Holcomb’s measures, unpopular among many rural Republicans, overstepped the bounds of his authority. While Holcomb vetoed the first bill meant to end his emergency powers, the General Assembly regrouped and overrode the governor in April.

In response, Gov. Holcomb elected to file a privately-funded lawsuit challenging the General Assembly’s new rule.

But according to The Indianapolis Star, the state’s own Attorney General’s Office protested Gov. Halcomb’s suit, which was filed using outside counsel.

A woman wearing an N95-style mask. Image via Pexels. Public domain.

In court filings, the attorney general’s office said only it could approve the governor’s decision to fight a public lawsuit using a private attorney.

However, writing in a Saturday ruling, Judge Patrick Dietrick determined that Halcomb is within his rights as the state’s chief executive to hire private lawyers and challenge the bill in court.

“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 wrote.

“Because his veto was overridden, this lawsuit is the only means available for the Governor to do so,” Dietrick said.

A spokesperson for Halcomb’s office said the ruling represents an important victory for the governor.

“The judge’s ruling in the governor’s favor means the lawsuit will proceed on the merits of the case,” the spokesperson said. “The outcome is important for Gov. Halcomb and […] future governors who operate in times of emergency.”

But Attorney General Todd Rokita says he plans to appeal the order.

“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,” Ritika said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

“The Constitution belongs not to the Governor, the Legislature, or the Attorney General, but to the people of Indiana,” Rokita added. “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.”


Judge allows Holcomb’s lawsuit against Indiana General Assembly to move forward

Judge rules lawsuit over emergency powers bill can proceed; Rokita requests appeal

Senate joins House to override Gov. Holcomb’s emergency powers veto. The bill becomes law.

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