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Government

Attorneys For Holcomb, Rokita Square Off In Court Over Emergency Powers Lawsuit

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(Brandon Smith and Alan Mbathi/IPB News)
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Attorneys for Gov. Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Todd Rokita faced off in court Wednesday over an emergency powers lawsuit.

A new state law, HB 1123, would allow the General Assembly to call itself into special session during an emergency – like the pandemic. Holcomb argued the Indiana Constitution gives that power solely to the governor and sued to strike the law down.

But Rokita said Holcomb can’t bring the suit because only the attorney general gets to represent the state in court – and Rokita doesn’t think the law is unconstitutional.

Marion County Judge P.J. Dietrick heard arguments Wednesday over whether Holcomb is allowed to bring the lawsuit. He repeatedly questioned both sides: what’s the governor’s recourse when the attorney general says he can’t file a suit?

“This is about the state of Indiana," said Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, representing Rokita. "The governor, in his official capacity, is the state of Indiana and the General Assembly has said the state of Indiana is represented in court by the attorney general. And that’s the point.”

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Fisher pointed to several court precedents that back up that view. But attorney John Trimble, representing Holcomb, said those precedents don’t apply. The governor, he argued, is trying to defend his constitutional powers from another branch of government.

“There’s nothing like it in the annals of Indiana law," Trimble said. "It stands out.”

Trimble contended that Rokita's position in the case would give the attorney general exclusive authority to decide a matter of law, which isn't his role. And Judge Dietrick questioned Fisher on that issue. But Fisher said that wasn't the case – he noted that a private citizen can bring a lawsuit challenging the new law.

And a private citizen, John Whitaker, has already done so.

There is no timetable for a ruling. But Dietrick told the attorneys he doesn't want to "let this linger" for too long. 

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.