INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld fines levied
by House Republicans against Democratic lawmakers for their 2011 walkout and
2012 boycotts in a series of bitterly partisan fights.
The court, split 3-2, found that the constitutional separation of powers
bars the courts from interfering in internal legislative decisions. The
state’s highest court approved a request that the case be dismissed.
Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the majority that it is not the
court’s role to assess punishments within the legislative branch of
“We hold that when, as here, the Indiana Constitution expressly assigns
certain functions to the legislative branch without any contrary
constitutional qualification or limitation, challenges to the exercise of
such legislative powers are nonjusticiable and the doctrine of separation of
powers precludes judicial consideration of the claims for relief, and the
defendants’ request for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims should have been
granted in full,” Dickson wrote.
Justices Loretta Rush and Robert Rucker dissented, saying the House’s
“discretion to punish its members” doesn’t include the ability to withhold
pay. Rucker said the high court’s decision to set a broad hands-off test for
staying out of legislative matters could stretch well beyond internal
“We have never adopted such a test, which in my view would effectively
preclude review of almost any legislative act,” he wrote.
Majority House Republicans ordered the state auditor to withhold the fines
from Democrats who spent weeks at an Illinois hotel to protest sweeping
changes in the state’s education system and a ban on mandatory union fees,
via right-to-work measures. Although Indiana state lawmakers lack a
filibuster, Democrats were able to block action by denying the Republicans
the numbers needed to achieve a quorum.
Then-Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, filed suit after the state withheld
$3,000 from his paycheck. Republicans later assessed $1,000-a-day fines on
Democrats who boycotted the Legislature 2012 in opposition of a
right-to-work ban on mandatory union fees.
Mark GiaQuinta, lawyer for the House Democrats, did not immediately return a
call seeking comment. House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City,
declined comment through a spokesman. Pelath won his new seat leading the
minority Democrats following the ouster last year of then-House Minority
Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he considers the issue
settled with Tuesday’s ruling.
“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 in
a statement. “I consider this a victory for the Indiana Constitution and the
proponents of limited government, and consider the matter closed.”