Lawmakers’ decisions carry a price

INDIANAPOLIS — All decisions have costs.

That’s what makes them decisions.

Bad decisions, though, carry the highest costs.

Some costs for bad decisions can be easily calculated.

Recently, a federal judge struck down Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s ban on Syrian refugees.

The judge’s ruling was as predictable as sunrise. In imposing the ban, the governor attempted to assert powers that, under the Constitution, he does not possess to solve a problem that did not exist. In addition, the court noted, Pence tried to apply the powers of government selectively against one group rather than equally, thus violating another fundamental principle of law.

Some legal disputes are judgment calls, close questions about which reasonable people may disagree. This one was not. The governor’s ban was a legal loser from the start.

One cost of that decision can be quantified.

Some years ago, I was executive director of what is now the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, the organization that sued Pence over the ban on Syrian refugees. From that experience, I know that organizations such as the ACLU are entitled to collect legal fees from the government when they prevail on a constitutional question.

The payments are supposed to serve as a disincentive for government officials to attempt to exceed their authority, one more check on the arbitrary exercise of state power.

The ACLU’s lawyers, like most attorneys, bill at a rate of several hundred dollars per hour. Thus, a clear constitutional violation that requires 10 hours of legal work can consume the funds that otherwise might fill a pothole. If the challenge consumes 100 hours of legal work, the real cost to the taxpayers can be that money that otherwise might be spent keeping a teacher in a classroom or a police officer on the beat for half a year goes elsewhere.

And the meter keeps running while the dispute goes on.

There will be a bill for the ill-considered ban on Syrian refugees.

The only question that remains is how large it will be — whether it will cost us a pothole, a teacher, a police officer or even more.

Other costs are harder to measure.

How, for example, do we attach a value to the divisions this ban created in the religious community?

Many churches and other faith-based organizations see relocating refugees from troubled and suffering parts of the world — and there are few parts of the world now that are more troubled and suffering than Syria — as acts of devotion. They worship by serving.

The governor, himself a man of profound faith, lobbied religious leaders to support the ban. Many rejected his plea, arguing that siding with him would amount to a renunciation of sacred duty.

One such organization became the ACLU’s client in the suit.

Others supported it.

Then there is the cost in the working world.

I’ve had a number of conversations with business and community leaders from across the state. These conversations seem to have the regularity of a ticking clock.

The business and community leaders all say they are concerned about how Indiana will meet coming economic challenges — specifically, a looming worldwide labor shortage that will force companies, cities, states and countries into ferocious competition for talented workers.

They worry that Indiana’s state government seems to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to discourage people — Syrian refugees, immigrants, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens — from living and working here. They’re concerned that the cost, down the line, for these bans and barriers will be immense.

The governor, one leader told me, doesn’t seem to get how much disruption these social issues create for businesses like ours. At a time when we face so much competition and so many challenges, we just don’t need that. He just doesn’t seem to grasp that.

The British politician Nigel Lawson once said: to govern is to choose.

He meant that the essence of political leadership was to weigh costs and benefits to guide one’s constituents on the course that would result in the greatest good.

The governor responded to the judge’s ruling in typical fashion. He ordered the state’s attorney general to appeal the decision with vigor.

That brings another saying to mind.

Good money after …

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.