Challenge to Secretary of State’s reelection bid denied

A constitutional challenge to Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s reelection bid failed Tuesday after the Indiana Election Commission agreed with a holistic reading of the state constitution.

Andrew Horning, a resident of Freedom, filed a challenge to Lawson’s candidacy in the 2018 election. He asserted she is not eligible to run because, if reelected, she will be prohibited from completing a full term under Article 6, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution.

Lawson was appointed as secretary of state on March 16, 2012 by Gov. Mitch Daniels, who chose her to serve out the remainder of the term of Charlie White. White was removed from the office after he was convicted of voter fraud.

According to Horning’s reading of the constitution, Article 6, Section 2 limits the secretary of state to a term of no more than eight years during a 12-year period. Lawson is now in her sixth year and, as spelled out in the constitution, can only serve another two years in office, Horning argued, so she is ineligible to even run for reelection.

Horning stated in his filing with the Election Commission that Lawson is “constitutionally forbidden” to be a candidate for secretary of state.

William Barrett, partner at Williams Barrett & Wilkowski LLP in Greenwood, represented Lawson at the hearing. Before the commission and in his memorandum in opposition to the challenge, Barrett said Article 6, Section 2 must be read in conjunction with Article 2, Section 11. The latter provision provides that an appointment pro tempore shall not be calculated as part of the official’s elected term. Therefore, Lawson is eligible to run and serve another four years as secretary of state because the pro tempore appointment does not count toward the eight-year limit described in Article 6, Barrett said.

“Decisions of the Indiana Supreme Court dating back to 1860 – well within living memory of the 1850-51 Constitutional Convention delegates who drafted the language at issue – make clear that these two provisions must be read together and that it is plain error to read them in isolation,” Barrett wrote in the memorandum.

Among the cases he cited were State ex rel. Fares v. Karger, 77 N.E.2d 746, 226 Ind. 48 (1948); State ex rel. Culbert v. Linkhauer, 142 Ind. 94, 41 N.E. 325 (1895); and Carson v. McPhetridge, 15 Ind. 327, 329 (1860).

Horning did not appear at the hearing, but Alan Horton, who described himself as a “constitutionalist,” presented the arguments against Lawson on Horning’s behalf. He reiterated to the commission that the secretary of state was barred by the constitution from running for reelection.

However, even before Barrett made his arguments, Karen Celestino-Horseman, serving as proxy for commission member Suzannah Overholt, directed Horton to Article, 2 Section 11. Attorneys Celestino-Horseman and Bryce Bennett, Jr., commission chair, both pointed out that provision states an appointed term would not apply to the time limit on the elected term.

Horton did not accept that explanation. He said the Article 2 section refers to filling the office while the Article 6 section discusses eligibility.

At the close of the hearing, the commission unanimously denied Horning’s challenge.

After the hearing, Horton said he was disappointed by the outcome. He said the commission is setting a “dangerous precedent” by allowing the political party in power to subvert the constitution and appoint the candidate the party leaders want to office.

“There are clear term limits built into the Indiana State Constitution,” Horton said. “All the political parties are violating the Indiana State Constitution, in our opinion.”

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