Stimulus money's fate in supreme court's hands - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Stimulus money's fate in supreme court's hands

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By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The fight over hundreds of millions in federal cash that we've followed for months is nearing its endgame.

School administrators and two South Carolina students went up against Gov. Mark Sanford in court Wednesday.

The court is expected to rule on the cases by the end of the week. The governor says whatever is decided will stand.

Wednesday's the court first heard the suit filed by students Casey Edwards and Justin Williams, then the action brought by the Association of School Administrators.

Chief Justice Jean Toal took aim at the governor's claim that he alone controls a disputed chunk of federal stimulus money.

"He lost or legitimately engaged in battle under the constitution of this state. And the rest is purely ministerial is it not?" said Toal.

Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, representing Edwards and Williams says the state has "from its beginning" rejected executive authority.

"I think Justice Beatty summarized it when he asked the governor's lawyer if he thought the governor was king. I think that may summarize this entire case," said Harpootlian.

However, Bob Cook, representing Attorney General Henry McMaster, says the state's position is to "preserve and protect" the state constitution.

Answering for Governor Mark Sanford was attorney Adam Charnes.

"The constitution establishes the governor as the supreme executive authority of the state. And according to what the plaintiffs in these cases, the petitioners have argued essentially that is meaningless. The governor is nothing more than a robot. And the General Assembly can come in and program the robot to do whatever the General Assembly wants," said Charnes.

Sanford has spent months trying to convince the state that he should have final say over how some federal stimulus dollars are spent.

After a federal judge sent two lawsuits back to the South Carolina Supreme Court Monday, the governor seemed to be preparing for another setback.

"So I think that this is how it all plays out in South Carolina come Wednesday. It looks like we will be bound to spend that money," said Sanford.

In documents filed with the state court Tuesday morning, his legal team contends the central legal issue in both cases is "whether the General Assembly may use a state law to appropriate Governor Sanford's exclusive discretionary authority" under federal law.

The governor makes a similar claim in the suit he filed against the state in federal court, but that case is not up for consideration Wednesday.

Also awaiting resolution of its lawsuit, the state's Association of School Administrators.

Director Molly Spearman bristled at suggestions by the governor this week that the court could be predisposed in favor of lawmakers who determine its own funding.

"I have the highest faith in the integrity of the Supreme Court of this state and to tell you honestly as a citizen I'm offended that our governor would even mention such a thing," said Spearman.

Attorney General Henry McMaster says the court's decision could have an impact beyond the immediate funding issue.

"This case and others like it could turn back the clock on that and do just the opposite and reduce the powers of the governor to almost irrelevancy. And that's the danger of the case," said McMaster. 

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