South Bend Tribune
Consumer advocacy groups and professional journalism organizations concerned about a recent Indiana Supreme Court ruling on lawmaker emails are asking the court to reconsider that decision.
It’s an appeal that anyone who cares about open government should support.
In April, the high court ruled that although Indiana legislators are subject to the state’s public access law, ordering release of lawmaker email communications with lobbying groups and businesses violates the state constitution’s separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Not surprisingly, that decision and its possible repercussions set off alarms. Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, noted that if the judiciary accepts this position, it could “eviscerate the Access to Public Records Act,” because every agency would make the same result.
Such worries were quickly borne out when Gov. Mike Pence referred to the ruling in arguing he should not be required to release documents tied to a separate lawsuit.
In filings a few days after the Supreme Court ruling, Pence lawyers said that “Just as the judiciary should not ‘intermeddle’ with the legislature’s determination of what constitutes its own work product, the judiciary should not ‘intermeddle’ with the executive’s determination of what constitutes its own work product, deliberative material or privileged material.”
The groups filing the appeal are requesting that the court reconsider its decision, which they say could be used by other branches that do not want to release records. They also asked the court to rule that emails sent between Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) and the paid lobbyists or energy utilities must be released.
The high court’s ruling, which allows lawmakers to withhold their communications with lobbying groups and businesses, also opens the door to further attempts to keep the people’s business shrouded in secrecy. We support this appeal to reverse a devastating blow to the public’s right to know.