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Abrams: The Indianapolis Bar Association and HJR-3

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jeff abrams ibaAs you know, the Indianapolis Bar Association issued the following press release on Monday, January 27, 2014 prior to the Indiana House of Representatives voting to remove the second sentence of the proposed Constitutional Amendment.

The Indianapolis Bar Association today announced its opposition to HJR-3, the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, and HB1153, its companion legislation. Last week, the Indianapolis Bar Association surveyed its members regarding their position on HJR-3. 2,196 members responded to the survey, which reflects a 47.4% response rate from the members receiving the survey; this is the highest survey response rate on record for the association. The results of the survey revealed that 73.1% of the respondents were in favor of publicly opposing HJR-3, 20.1% favored taking no position on the measure, 5.4% were in favor of supporting HJR-3, and 1.5% had no opinion.

Considering these survey results and the Board’s review of the proposed amendment and companion legislation, the Indianapolis Bar Association opposes passage of the proposed amendment and legislation. First, based on Indiana constitutional history and precedent, the content of this amendment stands out as inappropriate. In the 163 year history of the State’s constitution, it has been amended on subjects such as term limits, taxation, governmental structure, elections, and courts. Prior amendments dealt with what government could and could not do, and how the government is to be formulated and operated, not the regulation of its individual citizens. Second, members of the Indianapolis Bar Association expressed great concerns about the unintended consequences upon potentially hundreds of Indiana laws if HJR-3 is passed and ratified, including those in the areas of family law, criminal law, employment law, health care law, and tax law. This uncertainty would likely lead to an interruption in the administration of justice, years of litigation and significant expense for individual citizens and Indiana businesses.

The Indianapolis Bar Association is a voluntary membership organization comprised of 4,928 attorneys, judges, paralegals and law students. Founded in 1878, the association’s mission is to serve its members, promote justice and enhance the legal profession. The association is governed by a 32 member Board of Directors.

The IndyBar has historically weighed in on matters that affect laws and the practice of law. Our legislative committee meets every year at this time to review proposed bills and if needed, provide comments to committee members as to the affect the proposed bills may have on attorneys or the practice of law. This is done every year. We also have our mission statement which provides we are to serve our members, promote justice and enhance the legal profession. One issue discussed was the conflict presented by HJR-3 in trying to meet all three of those objectives.

We had several members of the IndyBar, including some board members, ask us to consider adopting a response to HJR-3 for various reasons. After two separate board meetings and hours of discussion at each one, it was clear that emotions were running high on the proposed amendment. We had outstanding discussions with input from every single board member. I am very proud of the approach, candor and intense yet respectful discussions the board had during the process.

Ultimately, it was determined that the best approach was to solicit information from our membership so we clearly were speaking for our members and not just what we believed our members wanted. Thus, the survey. As a result of the survey and more hours of discussion, the press release was generated. We reviewed previous Indiana Constitution amendments as well as the summary of the laws prepared by the IU Maurer School of Law that may be affected by the amendment. You will note that we opposed it primarily on how it may affect lawyers and the practice of law. We also discussed the need to provide education, and we will continue to discuss how that can be achieved.

The board knew that when taking this public position, not all of our members would agree. We respect our members’ views on these important matters even if they weren’t the views of the majority of members. However, the board felt comfortable taking this position as a result of the strong statement from our members in the survey overall. I hope that all members will appreciate the time spent to clearly understand exactly the opinions of our members and to draft a response appropriately, even if it did not conform with the view of all 4,928 of our members.

The House and Senate will continue to debate this issue and since the time that I delivered this article to the staff for the Indiana Lawyer, I am sure that more discussions, protests and statements will have been made for and against the amendment. I would only ask that all of our members clearly understand why the board took the position it did, respect the process that we went through and ultimately the decision we made. Many members of the board received emails from IndyBar members expressing their opinions on the issue, and I encourage those emails and discussions to continue so that we may continue to better serve our membership. Ending this article with a poem has been a challenge, but here goes.

HJR-3 has been a challenging topic for your IndyBar board.

If any of you have a secret solution acceptable to all, I would surely pay a HUGE reward.

I can assure you, all comments have been considered and certainly not ignored.

Please give the IndyBar some time, so any waning support is clearly restored.•

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