INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by House Democrats to rescind more than $100,000 in fines withheld from their paychecks by the Republican majority for shutting down legislative business to block a right-to-work proposal.
In its 3-2 decision to let the fines stand, the state's high court ruled the judicial branch of government cannot interfere with the internal workings of the legislative branch.
"The separation of powers doctrine prevents the courts from reviewing political, social and economic actions within the exclusive province of coordinate branches of government," wrote Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native.
Dickson, along with Justices Steven David and Mark Massa, said the Indiana Constitution and the rules of the House permit lawmakers to compel the attendance of absent members.
So long as that legislative discipline is not a criminally punishable action, the courts shall have no say in it, they wrote.
Nearly all House Democrats, including most from Northwest Indiana, relocated from the Statehouse to Urbana, Ill., for six weeks during the 2011 session and routinely skipped 2012 House meetings to prevent the chamber from having enough members in attendance to vote on a right-to-work measure they believe is a union-busting tool.
Right-to-work eventually passed in 2012 and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who appointed David and Massa to the court.
Justice Robert Rucker, a Gary native, strongly dissented from the court's ruling and was joined in part by Justice Loretta Rush, another Daniels appointee.
Rucker and Rush agreed the House has the power to fine its members but said Indiana law prohibits any employer, including state government, from failing to pay any money earned by an employee, and a violation of that law is a matter for the courts.
They said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Republican State Auditor Tim Berry erred by withholding the fines from the Democrats' paychecks and the money should be returned.
Bosma, in a statement, ignored the dissent and cheered the court's majority ruling calling it "a victory for the Indiana Constitution and the proponents of limited government."
Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody said similar to the the right-to-work law, which "was about making sure Hoosiers earn less on the dollar," the fines were "a monetary power grab to show complete Republican dominance."