By a 3-2 vote, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Gov. Nikki Haley lacks the authority to call state lawmakers into an emergency session – at least not before they’ve adjourned for the year, anyway.
The decision came mere hours after S.C. Senate President Glenn McConnell filed a lawsuit against Haley – who last week issued an executive order compelling lawmakers to return to Columbia after the S.C. Senate failed to pass her watered down version of government restructuring.
“Although the General Assembly is currently in recess, it has not adjourned sine die and, therefore, is still in its annual session,” S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote for the majority. “Under these specific facts, respondent cannot convene an “extra” session of the General Assembly since it is currently in session. To do so would interrupt the annual session and would violate the General Assembly’s authority to set its calendar and agenda and would constitute a violation of the separation of powers provision (emphasis original).”
Justices Donald Beatty and Kay Hearn – both appointed by the “Republican-controlled” legislature within the last four years – concurred with Toal’s opinion.
“Respondent may only convene an extra session of the General Assembly after the sine die adjournment (emphasis original),” the majority opinion continued. “Accordingly, we grant the request to permanently stay and enjoin the executive order dated June 2, 2011.”
Justices John W. Kittredge and Costa Pleicones dissented (or “discented,” if you’re a Republican party activist).
“The Governor has the absolute authority under the South Carolina Constitution to convene the General Assembly in extra session ‘on extraordinary occasions,'” Kittredge wrote for the minority. “The exercise of discretion in this regard by a Governor is unassailable, and the law in this regard is uniform.”
Obviously, the court’s order does not prevent Haley from calling lawmakers back into session following the conclusion of their upcoming special session – which begins on June 14. In fact, it appears as though the court would unanimously approve of her doing so.
In a terse statement issued shortly after the ruling, Haley signaled her displeasure – but said that she expected lawmakers to take action on restructuring as soon as they reconvened next Tuesday.
“It is unfortunate that today three of the five members of the Supreme Court disagreed with every other court in the nation and the attorney general,” Haley said. “But we must move on, and Senator McConnell now insists that he ‘support[s] the effort to add those items to the Senate’s agenda when [they] return on June 14.’ We expect him to be true to his word, and that as Senate President Pro Tempore he will ensure the Senate take up – and pass – these critical government reforms first thing next Tuesday. The people of this state have demanded this, and the Senate needs to deliver.”
As we’ve said from the beginning of this GOP soap opera, we have no problem with Haley convening an emergency session of the General Assembly. In fact, it was a brilliant public relations move – even if it failed to do anything other than deflect attention from the total lack of leadership she’s shown up to this point in her administration.
Our problem? The backroom deal she cut on government restructuring – and the persistent efforts on the part of her administration to lobby against reforms that would actually result in a more efficient, accountable state government.