SC Senate leader sues governor

Claims she has no authority to call lawmakers back to work
COLUMBIA — South Carolina's state Senate leader today filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, claiming she has no authority to call lawmakers back to work during a one-week break to take up her agenda items.

"Calling the General Assembly into extra sessions violates the Separation of Powers Doctrine," Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell of Charleston wrote in the filing. "The Governor has exceeded her authority to call the General Assembly into extra session and by doing so has intruded upon the legislative powers of the General Assembly."


McConnell's lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction asking the court to halt the executive session.

At issue is whether the Republican governor has the constitutional authority to call members of the GOP-controlled Legislature back, when they're technically in recess, to take up items not included for a special session they approved. Haley wants four measures that would allow voters to elect the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket, let the governor appoint the superintendent of education, merge the probation and prisons agencies, and put much of the state's bureaucracy into a new agency under her control.

Senators, who spent more than four weeks debating a budget, were debating creating the Cabinet-level Department of Administration as the clock ran out Thursday and lawmakers recessed for a one-week break.

McConnell said he shares Haley's frustration that the session ended without her bills being addressed, and noted he supports all four.

"Simply because the governor and I want certain bills enacted does not give us the power to ignore the constitution," he said in a statement. "If the governor does not have that authority, then the session she has ordered would be illegal, and the very reforms she wants passed would be in danger."

He said he is awaiting the Supreme Court's decision to determine if the Senate will meet Tuesday.

The Legislature passed a law last week to return for a June 14 wrap-up session with a limited agenda: primarily, wrap-up work on the budget, new lines for legislative and congressional districts, and agreement on bills that have already passed both chambers. Her bills aren't on the list.

But Haley immediately issued an executive order saying lawmakers should return this week, citing a June 1984 opinion by former Attorney General Travis Medlock as proof she's within her legal rights. The opinion said former Democratic Gov. Richard Riley had the authority to bring back the then-Democrat-controlled Legislature, though Riley never issued the order that year.

On Friday, Haley formally requested the current attorney general's take on the legal issues, and he quickly issued a five-page opinion affirming Medlock's opinion. While the state constitution regarding adjournment was amended several years ago, the outlook remains unchanged, wrote Attorney General Alan Wilson.

However, he noted he could not address whether the situation would be considered an "extraordinary occasion," as the constitution requires for such an order.

The lawsuit acknowledges the governor has broad discretion on that, but cites an 1878 ruling by the high court that an extra session should be the result of an unforeseen situation that "has no connection with the ordinary course of legislation."

The lawsuit notes 79 bills were on the Senate calendar, including the four the governor wants, when the regular session ended.

"The fact that legislative business is left uncompleted after the first year of a two year legislative session is the quintessential definition of an ordinary occurrence and in no rational way may be construed as an extraordinary occasion," the lawsuit claims. It is also ordinary for items on a governor's agenda to be excluded from what's taken up in a limited, special session that legislators approve.

"This intrusion could have a devastating effect on the General Assembly's ability to orderly wind up its affairs at the conclusion of the legislative session," the suit claims.

It says the law provided Haley a way to have her agenda items considered: "She simply has to convince enough members of each house to adopt a new resolution. This option may not be expedient enough for her liking, but it would demonstrate the appropriate degree of respect for our constitutional balance of powers."

In response to the lawsuit, Haley's spokesman reiterated what he said Friday, calling the court fight disappointing.

"This is not a constitutional crisis, but simply an extended opportunity for the Senate to finish the people's business — something a number of senators we've heard from support," said spokesman Rob Godfrey. "If the energy invested in avoiding coming back to work would instead go into passing these important restructuring reforms, South Carolina would be far better served."

Bills similar to the four Haley wants were also advocated by former Gov. Mark Sanford and died in the Senate during his tenure.

Haley said Thursday that legislators could pick any two of the four to pass during the executive session. But her spokesman wouldn't say if she would be content with two that don't include creating the Department of Administration. She said Thursday she couldn't wait for lawmakers to return in January, partly because she wants to have the summer to set up the new agency. It would be more difficult to get it up and running during the session, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler put out a list of 10 senators — including himself — who plan to return to Columbia on Tuesday. There are 46 senators.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, has told House members to be at their desks Tuesday. But they may have nothing to do. The House passed in March the four bills Haley wants, and is waiting on the Senate to amend them and send them back for more consideration.


Meg Kinnard contributed to this report.

Haley responds to suit

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says she has the authority to order the Legislature to return to Columbia to take up four bills.

Haley responded today to Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell's lawsuit challenging her ability to call legislators back during a one-week break.

The response says the constitution gives the governor absolute power to order the Legislature back to work for extraordinary occasions. It says courts have let the governor define those occasions, and it says Haley's order is consistent with former governors who did the same. She cites eight previous orders.

McConnell's lawsuit filed hours earlier asks the state Supreme Court to halt the extra session ordered for Tuesday. His lawsuit argues Haley's order violates the separation of powers and intrudes on legislators' powers.




PDF of lawsuit filed by S.C. Sen. Glenn McConnell against Gov. Nikki Haley
Gov. Haley's responding legal brief


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