S.C. Stimulus Fight in Federal Court:
Today a federal district court in South Carolina will hear arguments from attorneys for South Carolina Mark Sanford that litigation over whether the state legislature can force the acceptance of federal stimulus money over the Governor's objection should occur in federal court. Two other lawsuits have already been filed against Governor in state court seeking to force him to accept the money. These suits would be put on hold in state court if the federal court agrees to hear the case.
Why does Governor Sanford want this case to be heard in federal court? One reason is that the litigation turns on an application of federal law, specifically the stimulus bill. Under the stimulus, the Governor argues, the Governor has the authority to accept or reject funds. As the Governor argues in one of his briefs to the court:
the central legal issue in these three cases is whether the General Assembly may use a state law to transfer Governor Sanford’s discretionary authority under a federal law to itself. That issue, which is one of federal preemption, is controlled by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence County v. Lead-Deadwood School District, 469 U.S. 256 (1985). In Lawrence County, the Supreme Court held that when the federal government grants a specific entity of state or local government discretionary authority over the use of federal funds, any attempt by a state legislature to dictate through state law how that federal money is spent is preempted by federal law.
This federal question, the Governor argues, gives the federal court jurisdiction to hear the case.
Another reason for wanting this case to be in federal court is that the South Carolina Supreme Court may be too inclined to side with the state legislature, in part because it's the state legislature that elects them to office. Article V of the South Carolina Constitution provides:
The members of the Supreme Court shall be elected by a joint public vote of the General Assembly for a term of ten years, and shall continue in office until their successors shall be elected and qualified, and shall be classified so that the term of one of them shall expire every two years. In any contested election, the vote of each member of the General Assembly present and voting shall be recorded.
There is no bar on successive terms, so each member of the Court could seek reelection before the state legislature again. Given what's at stake, it's understandable why the Governor would think the state Supreme Court might not be the most neutral forum. Indeed, I'm inclined to think the case for recusal of the state Supreme Court's justices is stronger here than in Capterton v. A.T. Massey Coal
, but if the state Supreme Court were to take the case, I doubt any of the justices would in fact recuse.
UPDATE: The Governor's website has links to press releases and legal filings here.