COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Gov. Mark Sanford said on Thursday that he filed a federal lawsuit against the Legislature because its members overstepped their constitutional authority by trying to force him to accept $700 million in federal stimulus aid.
Sanford sued his Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is charged with enforcing state laws, and asked the U.S. District Court to declare stimulus-related provisions of the state budget unconstitutional.
“This is not simply about their overriding my vetoes or simply about the stimulus money,” Sanford told reporters who crowded into a small and steamy conference room on the west side of the state’s historic Capital building. “The issue is the usurpation of my authority as provided under the federal stimulus legislation.”
Speaking for just under 30 minutes Thursday morning, the governor claimed that as drafted, the state budget violates the separation of powers clause by denying him his executive authority.
“Filing this lawsuit is the last thing we want to be doing, but our hands have been forced on this front and letting these actions stand would be both a disservice to taxpayers and set a terrible precedent for future governorships,” Sanford said.
He described the suit as a “pre-emptive strike” launched because he believes a lawsuit brought by a Columbia high school student in April is about to be refilled in South Carolina Supreme Court.
That lawsuit asked the state Supreme Court to allow the Legislature to bypass the governor and take $700 million in budget aid. The justices did not take the case at that time, finding it was not “ripe for judicial determination.”
In a unanimous decision, the court wrote that until lawmakers actually vote to spend the money, it did not want to rule on a “hypothetical or abstract dispute.”
Obviously, the governor said, the situation is different now.
Sanford has declined to ask for the $700 million – part of a total $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.
The governor is represented by attorney John Witherspoon Foster with Kilpatrick Stockton. Sanford said the attorneys accepted the case pro bono.