Indiana high court rejects bid by legislators to restrain executive power during health emergencies

While most Americans have moved on from COVID, little action has been taken to ensure that governments can never again enforce arbitrary “lockdowns” without the consent of the governed.

In a blow to efforts to restore constitutional accountability, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected a law that would allow the legislature to call its own special session during a “public health emergency,” the AP reported.

Big court decision

Like many governors around the country, Indiana’s Eric Holcomb, a Republican, imposed mask mandates and other policies micromanaging the behavior of state residents without public input or consent. He issued some 70 “public health” orders unilaterally.

In response, the legislature in 2021 overrode the governor to enact a law allowing them to call their own special session if the governor declares a public health emergency. The normal session only lasts from January to April, so outside of that window, the governor could effectively rule by fiat.

Holcomb vetoed the law, which he said would allow “disruptive” and “avoidable” challenges to executive power during a crisis.

The state’s Republican attorney general sided with lawmakers, but all five justices on the Indiana Supreme Court struck the law down, finding that it was forbidden by the plain text of the state’s constitution.

According to Chief Justice Lorretta Rush, “Under our Constitution, the General Assembly simply cannot do what the challenged law permits absent a constitutional amendment.”

New normal?

Attorney general Todd Rokita said the court had bypassed “the intent of those who are directly elected by the people.”

A lower court judge in Marion County, Patrick Dietrick, had previously ruled in favor of the legislature, saying nothing in the state constitution “guarantees a legislative interregnum during which the Governor has exclusive power to decide whether the legislature should be in session.”

It’s entirely possible that the Indiana Supreme Court made the accurate call, textually. But that does little to resolve the question of what the people should do to ensure their voices are heard the next time an “emergency” is called.

Holcomb, who has dismissed reasons for rejecting vaccines as “absurd” and even echoed Joe Biden’s “pandemic of the unvaccinated” rhetoric, finally declared the “emergency” over in March after two years. But there is nothing in principle to stop it from returning to Indiana or any state.

The permanent “emergency” has already emboldened petty tyrants like Dr. Fauci, who recently said he found it “disturbing” that federal courts can impose limits on the power of unelected federal bureaucrats.  America just isn’t the same country it was in 2019. We are less free than we were before.

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