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John Krull commentary: Lawmakers send cash and constitution into the shredder

The conservative Indiana lawmakers who say they love constitutional principles have a funny way of showing it.

The state’s lawmakers in the Indiana General Assembly just sent their plan to curtail some of the Indiana governor’s emergency powers to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Holcomb has vowed to veto the measure. He says it’s unconstitutional.

Holcomb is not alone in that assessment. Those of us who have read Indiana’s constitution cannot find any support for the legislators’ contention that they should be able to call themselves into session.

That doesn’t seem to have stopped the lawmakers who style themselves as constitutional “purists” from asserting rights the document they claim to worship just doesn’t give them.

Their hypocrisy or ignorance—well, to be fair, it could be both—might be amusing in other circumstances. After all, watching politicians posture and preen can be almost as entertaining as watching elephants trying to dance “The Nutcracker.” As the cliché goes, politics is show business for ugly people.

The problem is that the ticket for the performance can be pricey.

Many years ago, I served as the executive director what is now known as the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The experience was instructive in many ways.

Not the least of those ways was I learned the callous disregard many public officials have not just for constitutional principles but also for preserving the treasure provided by Indiana taxpayers.

When our lawmakers push into law a measure that is unconstitutional, they invite a legal challenge. When the state loses the challenge, the state—meaning the taxpayers—foots the bill not just for the state’s litigation costs but also the legal fees for the person or organization filing the challenge.

That provision is supposed to discourage lawmakers and governors from attempting to circumvent or flout either the U.S. or Indiana constitutions.

It doesn’t seem to work, though.

In those long-ago days when I was working for the ACLU, the legislature adopted a measure to post the Ten Commandments on the Statehouse lawn. It was a clear violation of the Constitution. The courts had said so.

Again.

And again.

And again.

That didn’t stop Indiana lawmakers from charging ahead, even though they knew they were going to lose. They would stop me in the halls and joke about what they called the ACLU “appropriations act.”

They thought it was a funny joke.

When, as everyone who had paid any attention expected, the state lost the case, the bill for the ACLU’s legal fees ran into the high five figures. (I have no idea what the state’s own costs were because the Indiana attorney general’s office does a good job of obscuring what its costs in such cases are.)

At that time, the taxpayer money the state spent on the Ten Commandments would have been almost enough to keep two teachers in a classroom or two police officers on the street for a year.

Instead, that money funded a foolish gesture by lawmakers who knew they were throwing the cash away.

They might as well have run $50 bills through a shredder.

But then, the money didn’t belong to them.

It belonged to us.

To the taxpayers.

Flash forward to now.

The governor says he will veto this emergency powers bill. If he does, the legislature likely will override the veto and the measure will become law.

There will be a suit on constitutional grounds.

The state will lose.

Hoosier taxpayers will cough up cash that could have been spent many, many better ways.

Afterward, the lawmakers who pushed this measure through will find a stage or a microphone and talk about how devoted they are to constitutional principles and how determined they are to protect the taxpayers’ interests.

Don’t believe them.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.