IN Supreme Court Declines To Open Lawmakers' E-mails To Public

Apr 19, 2016

Credit Noah Coffey / https://www.flickr.com/photos/noahwesley/

The Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday ruled it will not force Indiana lawmakers to release their emails under the state’s public records law.  The Court says to do so would violate the state constitution’s separation of powers.

Citizen advocacy groups, including the Citizens Action Coalition, filed a lawsuit to gain access to emails between a House Republican legislator and utility companies. The state’s public records law exempts what’s called “legislative work product,” but doesn’t define what that means. 

In a 4-1 decision, State Supreme Court Justice Steven David writes that for the Court to define work product and force lawmakers to disclose their emails would interfere with internal legislative procedures and violate separation of powers. 

Citizens Action Coalition executive director Kerwin Olson says he’s disappointed and frustrated by the ruling.  And he says lawmakers should now clarify the public records law to define work product -- though he’s not hopeful they will.

“No legislative body wants to take up the issue of whether or not they should disclose communications with outside corporate interests,” Olson says.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Robert Rucker calls the Court’s ruling “premature” and says lower courts should be able to explore how far the work product exemption applies. 

In a statement, House Speaker Brian Bosma calls the ruling a "win" for Hoosiers who wanted assurance their correspondence with lawmakers will remain confidential.