South Carolina’s highway commission unanimously re-appointed Christy Hall as head of the state Department of Transportation on Wednesday, a few hours after the state Supreme Court ruled her appointment by the governor last year was unlawful.
The justices ruled in a 4-1 decision Wednesday that Gov. Nikki Haley lacked the authority to appoint Hall to the position when a 2007 law that gave the governor that power expired last summer. Legislators had included language in the budget to extend that authority for another year while they tried to work out a final road funding bill. However, the court ruled that was “log rolling,” and violates the state constitution’s “one-subject” requirement that the budget cannot be used to change other non-budget laws.
“It is well settled that the purpose of the appropriations act is the raising and spending of revenue,” the court opinion by Chief Justice Costa Pleicones stated.
The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, a watchdog group that often sues government agencies its believes are violating the state constitution.
Within hours, Transportation Commission Chairman Mike Wooten had called an “emergency” teleconference with the other seven members to address the ruling. The commission unanimously re-appointed Hall to the post and voted to retroactively apply any decisions she had made since taking over on an interim basis in June 2015.
Vice Chairman John Hardee said the commission had expected the ruling given legal precedent on “log rolling. ”
“We definitely want (Secretary Hall),” he said after the meeting. “She’s doing a great job and she will continue to do that job. We just need to be properly funded so we can get all the roads in this state fixed.”
Legislators say they hope to return appointment power to the governor under the transportation reform bill that is closing to passing this year. One bill currently sits in negotiations between the House and Senate, while a funding measure cleared the House budget committee Wednesday.
Simultaneously Wednesday, the Supreme Court also declined to rule on a second suit filed by the Public Interest Foundation which claimed transferring appointment power to the Transportation Commission would violate the constitution’s separation of powers rules, since SCDOT is an executive agency while the commission is legislatively appointed.