Indiana high court stops newspaper’s suit to get voting records from state House
INDIANA — The Indiana Supreme Court stopped a lawsuit by Indianapolis Newspapers seeking legislative voting records from the clerk of the Indiana House of Representatives in mid- October.
When the Access to Public Records Law empowers the judiciary to inquire into the internal operations of the House, it violates the separation of powers clause of the state constitution, the court ruled in a 3-2 decision.
“[T]his Court has held repeatedly that courts should not intermeddle with the internal functions of either the Executive or Legislative branches of Government,” the court said.
The clerk is a patronage appointee whose duties are controlled totally by House leadership. Any evaluation of the clerk’s duties is an internal House matter, the court said. Any sanctions for improper legislative secrecy would have to be determined and imposed solely by the legislature itself.
The case arose when the clerk refused an Indianapolis Star reporter’s request to inspect and copy House voting records. Indianapolis Newspapers filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Indianapolis in February 1993, contending that the voting records are public records. In October 1993, the clerk brought an original action to the Supreme Court, asking for an order barring the trial court from hearing the case. The Supreme Court’s decision prohibits further proceedings in the case.
The dissenters in the Supreme Court said that the issues presented, including how citizens can learn whether their own legislators voted yes or no on amendments to the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget, should not be resolved in this supervisory proceeding but through the regular trial process.
(Indiana, On The Relation of Betty Masariu v. the Marion Superior Court; Media Counsel: Robert P. Johnstone)