Sunday, April 12, 2020

Special Session of the Indiana General Assembly Needed Before May

A few points:

First, though in its details, this is another post that directly concerns only the State of Indiana, its subject is conceptually inseparable from one of the defining features of what government in America is supposed to be: what the U.S. Constitution refers to as the "Republican Form of Government".

Second, I apologize for not saying something about this sooner.  Though I did hear about Governor Eric Holcomb's decision to delay Indiana's 2020 primary elections in response to the pandemic (which, considered purely as a matter of policy, I think is a necessary move) when the decision was announced a few weeks ago, it did not initially occur to me that timing of Indiana's primary elections is already set by the Indiana Code itself, and I was not aware at that time that Executive Order 20-07 attempts to "suspend" that provision of state law.

Third and finally, the main point of this post is this: in order to lawfully reschedule this year's primary elections in Indiana, which in accordance with IC 3-10-1-3 were to take place on May 5th, Governor Holcomb must call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly as soon as possible.  Indiana's primary elections do need to be rescheduled from May 5th, this year, but the May 5th date was set by the laws of our state (again, specifically IC 3-10-1-3) as established by its legislative power, which is vested in the General Assembly (see Article 4, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution; for those seeking optional material for personal enrichment, see also Article 3).  Only the legislative power can alter or suspend prior acts of legislation, and only the General Assembly can use the legislative power.

I have no serious doubt that in issuing Executive Order 20-07, to suspend IC 3-10-1-3 and temporarily substitute for it a new rule to operate just as though it were the law, Governor Holcomb believed that he had lawful authority to do so.  I assume that advisers told him so, though that regrettably would mean that whatever they told him was wrong.  They ought to have known something about our form of government, and the notion of a legislative power being vested in the legislature ought to have been comprehensible enough to them, but it is a mystery how they managed to keep their error intact given that the Indiana Constitution was designed to drive that very error into extinction.  Indiana's Bill of Rights is Article 1 of the Indiana Constitution, and Section 26 of that Bill of Rights provides: "The operation of the laws shall never be suspended, except by the authority of the General Assembly."  In placing this in our Bill of Rights, Indiana has followed the example set by the English Bill of Rights (1689), which explicitly abolished this power in England (shortly after a recent king had effectively created it by asserting that power, despite having no lawful authority to do it, and getting enough people to act as though it were legal ... for a while, anyway), in addition to the example set by a number of the individual United States.  It is probable that those advisers simply had never read the Indiana Constitution.  (If I ever receive confirmation of that, I will try to find the Governor some better advisers.)

Though the Indiana Constitution explicitly forbids any authority other than the Indiana General Assembly to suspend the operation of the laws of the state, the same constitution fortunately has granted the Governor ample lawful power to ensure that this year's primaries are rescheduled as needed.  Article 4, Section 9 gives the Governor the power "at any time by proclamation" to "call a special session" of the Indiana General Assembly.  Additionally, Article 5, Section 20 provides, "Should the seat of government become dangerous from disease or a common enemy, the Governor may convene the General Assembly at any other place."  This is both fortunate and fitting; we can see that the Indiana Constitution was designed for people who would not surrender or abandon either the rule of law or the determination to remain a free state, even when facing the extraordinary dangers posed by infection or invasion.

The usual chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate at the Statehouse would most likely be an unsuitable meeting place until the infamous virus ceases to be a problem.  Consequently, the Governor will be able to convene the General Assembly "at any other place".  It is convenient that in calling this immediate special session, there will be (I suspect) an abundance of spacious, well ventilated, vacant space where the General Assembly will be able to conduct its business with the danger of infection all but eliminated.  Unless we are certain that the Statehouse will be a safe meeting place for the General Assembly later in the year, though I doubt that we can be entirely certain what the state of the pandemic will be at that time, we ought to be prepared for the possibility that the General Assembly will need to be convened at some "other place" then.  For the General Assembly to conduct its business efficiently at a location other than the Statehouse, I assume that there will be problems needing to be solved, details needing to be settled, and, perhaps, appropriations needing to be made.  It ought to be easier to deal with that experience now than later, as it currently will at least be easy enough to find enough vacant (and, ideally, inexpensive) space so that the legislature will have somewhere to sit.

I urge Governor Holcomb to immediately call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly.  Only by doing so can Indiana's 2020 primary elections be legally moved.  It will give the General Assembly the opportunity that it needs to reschedule the primaries itself, legitimately -- as well as to pass any other laws needed in order to adapt the machinery of Indiana's government to the unusual circumstances of this pandemic (and, as always, for the redress of grievances).

This is a matter of greater importance than it might superficially appear, so expect me to keep an eye on this issue.

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