COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Two lawsuits intended to force Gov. Mark Sanford to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money must be heard by the state Supreme Court, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson Jr.’s decision came less than a week after Sanford asked the federal court to combine the two lawsuits with one he filed asserting the Legislature usurped his authority by including the disputed money in next year’s $5.7 billion state budget.
“After reviewing the record, the memoranda of counsel, the law and hearing the arguments of counsel, the court finds that remand of both cases is appropriate,” Judge Anderson wrote in his order.
One of the two remanded lawsuits was filed on behalf of two South Carolina students; the other was filed by school administrators, who said they desperately need the money to gird them against recession-related funding shortfalls.
In their lawsuit, Chapin High School student Casey Edwards and University of South Carolina law student Justin Williams said the governor must accept the stimulus money to help public schools and universities provide an adequate education to students.
The school administrators association asked the court to order the governor to accept and use the money as outlined in the state budget, which this year would come to about $185 million, court documents said.
Sanford has declined to ask for the $700 million, earmarked for education and law enforcement, part of $2.8 billion available to the state over the next two years, unless lawmakers agree to spend that money or an equal amount on state debt.
Anderson did not explain his rationale for remanding the two lawsuits, neither from the bench Monday morning nor in the order he issued later that afternoon. He did, however, comment at the start of Monday’s hearing that he’d found no federal case law to provide him with guidance on how to handle the kind of dispute in which the governor and Legislature are embroiled.
Sanford, who is said to be considering a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, said he wanted the three cases to be heard together in Federal Court to expedite a resolution.
Shortly after Anderson’s decision was announced, Sanford said he not plan to make any state or federal appeals regardless of what’s ultimately decided by the state’s top court.
“We continue to believe that this issue is fundamentally about the balance of power and separation of powers in our state,” Sanford said in a statement. “Our hope is that however it turns out it will serve as a reason for more people to make their voices heard about the outdated and bizarre government structure in South Carolina.
“Legislative dominance in our state costs all of us in very real terms for the way it breeds duplication and waste. If we ever want to be competitive as a state in the 21st century, it starts with having a 21st century government structure.”