The day after Monroe County’s health department announced that Alpha Epsilon Pi and Indiana University had reached an agreement to shut down the fraternity through next summer, Indiana’s five supreme court justices heard oral arguments that could impact how Greek organizations are defined in the state.
The case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday morning involves a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals dates back to summer 2018. A key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity when it comes to the definition in the city’s zoning code?
Thursday’s oral arguments were unrelated to the recent AEP shutdown, or the COVID-19 county health regulations the fraternity apparently violated.
But COVID-19 did get a specific mention Thursday morning, from chief justice Loretta Rush, who opened proceedings by thanking people who’d sent well wishes for her recovery from the pandemic virus.
On Thursday morning, the court heard arguments on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That is, the court is still weighing whether to issue a ruling in the case at all. One option is to neither affirm nor reverse the court of appeals ruling, which went 2–1 against Bloomington. Not accepting transfer would let the court of appeals ruling stand.
The other question on which the court heard arguments on Thursday was the usual one: Was the court of appeals right? Specifically, was the court of appeals right in saying Bloomington’s zoning code violated the US Constitution because it delegated to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance?
The authority in question is the ability to determine if an organization is or is not a fraternity or sorority.
On Friday, the county board of health voted unanimously to give the county attorney and the health officer the authority to convert the recommendations into something stronger—regulations, which can be enforced under county ordinance.
For example, the previously recommended occupancy for a communal living facility was a range from 50 to 75 percent. Friday’s action will cap the occupancy at 75 percent, and that will have the force of a regulation. Based on the discussion at Friday’s board of health meeting, the regulatory cap means some sorority and fraternity members will need to move out of their Greek houses.
The recommendation allowing “essential” guests but prohibiting “non-essential” guests, among other previous recommendations, will also become a regulation.
The board’s action came after Indiana University announced the previous day that it had directed all Greek houses to suspend “in-person organizational activities” other than dining and housing for live-in members until at least Sept. 14, 2020.