Gov. Mark Sanford faces an uphill battle to win Monday's U.S. court hearing over $700 million in federal stimulus money.
That's the assessment of most constitutional experts interviewed by The State.
Sanford, who opposes accepting the money unless an equal amount is used to pay down state debt, has asked U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson to decide whether the issues raised in three lawsuits over the money should be decided in federal or state court.
Anderson could rule on the jurisdiction issue as soon as Monday.
Advocates of accepting the federal stimulus money want the issues decided in a state court. There, they believe, they stand a stronger chance of winning approval to spend the stimulus money – as legislators agreed – on education and law enforcement.
Gene Nichol, a University of North Carolina law professor, expects Anderson to send the case back to state court, handing Republican Sanford a defeat and the GOP-controlled legislature a victory.
“There is … clear case law indicating that federal judges should not intervene in important, contested state questions of separation of powers – trumping those actually charged with making the decision,” Nichols said.
Sanford has argued state lawmakers are trying to rewrite the federal stimulus law by stripping him of authority that law gives him. Lawmakers and educators argue the law allowed them to circumvent Sanford and only the legislature – not the governor – has the authority to spend the money.
In their session just ended, S.C. legislators agreed to spend the money, including it in the budget for the state's fiscal year that starts July 1. They also overrode Sanford's veto of that spending.
The fate of the money, $350 million in each of the next two budget years, has been tied up for months. Time increasingly is an issue, however. The U.S. Education Department has set a July 1 deadline to request the money.
S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, who hopes to succeed the term-limited Sanford as governor, said Friday the S.C. Supreme Court should hear the stimulus lawsuits.