In a 3-2 decision Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Governor Nikki Haley does not have the authority to call legislators back into session. The majority, led by Chief Justice Jean Toal, said that because lawmakers are technically still in session, the governor could not call them in for an “extra” session.
The issue began last week after the Senate adjourned for two weeks without passing a government restructuring bill the governor wanted. The legislature adjourned before a Sine Die session, which meant they could only take up the budget, redistricting, and a few other issues in a special session which would begin June 14.
Haley ordered both Houses back, using her power to call for an emergency session. That prompted Senate President pro tempore Glenn McConnell to file a lawsuit against Haley, saying the move was unconstitutional. McConnell argued the governor could only order legislators back for an “extraordinary occasion.” The Court did not address McConnell’s complaint on this point.
Writing for the majority, Toal said Haley could not call legislators back because the term was not officially over, yet.
(The South Carolina Constitution) limits the Governor’s power to convening only an “extra” session of the General Assembly. Although the General Assembly is currently in recess, it has not adjourned sine die and, therefore, is still in its annual session. Under these specific facts, (Haley) cannot convene an “extra” session of the General Assembly since it is currently in session.
Rather than deal with the legal issue as presented in the Petition, the majority recasts the issue as one of “timing” and focuses on the word “extra.” The basis for the majority’s decision is not even argued by (McConnell).
After the ruling, McConnell reiterated that he supported the bill, but believed Haley had overstepped her authority.
I want to make sure the people of South Carolina understand that this petition with the Court is not about finishing our work or about restructuring. It is about doing it in a way that does not violate the Constitution.
The President pro tempore said he would work to add the restructuring bill to the agenda next week. That would require a two-thirds vote from Senators. It’s unclear if those votes exist, since Democrats are holding up the bill, accusing House Republicans of breaking a promise on separate legislation.
In a statement, Haley said she would hold McConnell to his word.
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. But we must move on.
Read the Supreme Court ruling here.