COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Just days after determining that an expedited hearing was warranted on whether Gov. Mark Sanford or the Legislature has final say on whether to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money, the South Carolina Supreme Court opted out of the controversy. 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.”
“We find this action is not ripe and appropriate for judicial determination unless or until the General Assembly has taken, as it is authorized to do, measures to appropriate the funds at issue,” the court wrote in its 5-0 ruling. “Until that time, there is no real and substantial controversy upon which this Court can render a declaratory judgment.”
Sanford has said he will not accept the money unless the state pays off debt equivalent to the $700 million in federal aid. But the leadership of the Legislature, which often is at odds with the governor though they are all members of the same political party, feel otherwise. Sanford, a Republican, is believed to be interested in running for president in 2012.
Attorneys for Casey Edwards, the high school senior who filed the case this week, said the court’s decision left open the possibility of another lawsuit after the Legislature votes to spend the $350 million – the share of federal money for the next budget year.
Dwight Drake, an attorney with Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough, said the key words in the order are “at this time.”
Drake, who filed the lawsuit with attorney Dick Harpootlian, said he believes the state supreme court would welcome a refilling once the Legislature completes its budget deliberations later his spring – a process in which the stimulus money is expected to figure prominently.
The court decision backed the arguments of Attorney General Henry McMaster, who responded to the initial filing of the lawsuit by saying he believed the action was premature.
McMaster said the decision allows for an out of court compromise on the matter.