COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – The South Carolina Supreme Court granted a high school student’s request for an expedited hearing on whether state lawmakers can force Gov. Mark Sanford to accept federal stimulus money for education. Casey Edwards, 18, says Congress wants legislatures to be able to request federal money apportioned to states in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act even if a governor does not. Sanford, viewed as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, has blocked about $700 million earmarked for education and police and other first responders.
Sanford said he wants the Legislature to use other dollars to pay down state debt obligations before he will request federal money, but many top lawmakers have rejected that plan.
At a news conference in Columbia on Thursday, Edwards, of Chapin, said a documentary film about central South Carolina’s famous Interstate 95 corridor, “Corridor of Shame,” opened her eyes to the plight of impoverished schools in the state.
“I think everyone deserves the education I’ve had,” she said.
In a nonbinding opinion announced in March, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster held that only the governor has the power to request the funds.
But Dwight Drake, an attorney with Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough, said the state could not ignore an amendment added to the stimulus bill by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn that allows for either the Legislature or the governor to request the funds.
Clyburn, a South Carolinian whose district encompasses the region depicted in Corridor of Shame, has lambasted Sanford and other governors who are resistant to the stimulus package.
Drake, who filed the lawsuit with attorney Dick Harpootlian, said the difference of opinion is “an important question” that needs to be answered.
The lawsuit cites the public interest and the General Assembly’s need for prompt guidance as reasons the high court should take the unusual step of accepting the case without lower court hearings first.
Before the State Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Drake said that if it did expedite the matter it could be resolved in 20 to 30 days.