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Fines will stand in legislative walkout case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled the dispute over fines imposed on lawmakers resulting from Democratic walkouts during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions is outside of the court’s authority to render a decision.

In Tim Berry, auditor of State; M. Caroline Spotts, Principal Clerk of the House of Representatives; and The State of Indiana/Brian C. Bosma, Speaker v. William Crawford, et. al, 49S00-1201-PL-53 and 49S00-1202-PL-76, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and directed the trial court grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of justiciability.

However, the case split the court with Justice Robert Rucker dissenting and Justice Loretta Rush concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The case stems from the walkout by Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives during the right-to-work debates in 2011 and 2012. Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, directed that fines be withheld from the legislative pay of the absent representatives.

The affected members of the House Democratic Caucus brought suit in Marion Superior Court seeking to recover the withheld pay and enjoin future action to recover the fines.

In its decision, the majority of the Supreme Court held the actions taken were within the authority granted both in the Indiana Constitution and in the House rules. Therefore, the judicial branch has no authority to decide the case.

“Although courts in general have the power to determine disputes between citizens, even members of the Indiana General Assembly, we hold that where a particular function has been expressly delegated to the legislature by our Constitution without any express constitutional limitation or qualification, disputes arising in the exercise of such functions are inappropriate for judicial resolution,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote.

Dickson was joined by Justices Steven David and Mark Massa.

As part of his dissent, Rucker argued the court’s assertion that it is constitutionally limited from intervening is without precedence. He stated the House of Representatives’ constitutionally granted ability to punish its members does not include the discretion to reduce its members’ compensation.

Rush joined Rucker in arguing the case is not about the House’s authority to impose these fines but about whether it may collect the fines in the manner it did, and on that point, she wrote, “I share his understanding of Article 4, Section 29 as an ‘express constitutional limitation’ that makes this limited question justiciable.”

Bosma applauded about the court’s decision.

“I am very pleased that the Supreme Court properly respected the separation of powers and the rights of the legislative branch to manage its own internal affairs without interference from the judicial branch,” he said. “I consider this a victory for the Indiana Constitution and the proponents of limited government, and consider the matter closed.”


 


 

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