Indiana will join 16 states in a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s new immigration policies.
The suit – spearheaded by Texas – asks a judge to declare the president’s executive order unconstitutional because it’s a policy change that did not receive congressional approval.
Governor Mike Pence will use outside attorneys to handle the lawsuit and any legal costs will be covered by the governor’s office, not the attorney general.
“While reasonable people can differ on ways to improve our nation’s broken immigration system, the president’s unilateral action was an unacceptable end run around the democratic process and joining other states in pursuing legal recourse to challenge this action is the right thing to do,” Pence said in a statement.
He said the suit is “not about immigration.”
“It is about denying states such as ours the opportunity to be represented in policy-making through our elected members of Congress,” he said.
Pence had been informally discussing a possible suit with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller since the president last month issued his executive order, which provides deportation relief to about 5 million immigrants in the country illegally.
On Wednesday, Pence sent Zoeller a letter “formally directing you to use any and all legal means necessary to represent the state of Indiana as a plaintiff in the suit being filed by the state of Texas today.”
“I firmly believe that the president, by his own previous admissions, has overstepped his executive authority by circumventing Congress, thereby preventing Indiana’s elected representatives from participating in the debate on this important issue and eliminating the state of Indiana’s voice in the matter,” Pence wrote.
But instead, the attorney general authorized the governor to hire attorneys Peter Rusthoven and Joe Chapelle from the Indianapolis-based firm Barnes and Thornburg to represent the state. Kara Brooks, a spokeswoman for Pence, said there’s “no way to estimate the cost of any litigation at the outset.”
Zoeller was not available for comment about the lawsuit and earlier declined a request for an interview about immigration. But the Republican said in a memo to the governor that he shares concerns about Obama’s actions and will continue to work with a bipartisan group of attorneys general to urge Congress to step into the debate.
Obama has repeatedly defended his actions, saying in an editorial piece on Tuesday that he still believes “the best way to solve this problem is by working together with both parties to pass that kind of bipartisan law.”
“But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as president – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just,” he wrote.
And he told disgruntled federal lawmakers to pass a bill.
“The day I sign an immigration reform bill into law, the actions I’ve taken to help solve this problem will no longer be necessary,” Obama said.
Indiana joins a number of southern and Midwestern states in the lawsuit, which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed Wednesday in federal court. Abbott said in a statement that Obama’s executive action “tramples” on federal law and the U.S. Constitution’s Take Care Clause, which limits the president’s power and to executing laws passed by Congress.
Abbott also said the federal Department of Homeland Security issued the new immigration policies without following federal rulemaking guidelines.
The case was filed in the Southern District of Texas. The multistate coalition includes Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.