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ACLU of Indiana celebrates 60 years of guarding founding principles

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Among the collection of framed degrees, recognitions and pictures hanging on Ken Falk’s office walls is a photograph of an overpass spray-painted with the words “Roadblocks are unconstitutional.”

The picture is a visual reminder of Indianapolis v. Edmonds, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), a case that Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, fought all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. At issue was whether vehicle checkpoints set up by Indianapolis police to search for drugs constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

aclu Ken Falk, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana legal director (IL Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

While fighting this case in court, Falk received a phone call from a man who described himself as rich, white and one who never thought he would be calling the ACLU of Indiana. However, the caller was incensed about the roadblocks and asserted no government was going to randomly stop him.

The dispute over what is and is not constitutional reflects the ACLU of Indiana’s mission to defend individual rights and preserve the liberties given in the Constitution. The organization champions the Bill of Rights, which it sees as ensuring the minority is not overridden by the majority.

The roadblock case, Falk said, illustrates that members of the minority group are always changing. As the caller realized, anyone can find themselves outside the majority at any time.

“I think it’s vital that people have a voice,” Falk said. “It’s not enough to say the Bill of Rights gives everybody a voice. You have to actively pursue that voice.”

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the ACLU of Indiana. The organization was embroiled in controversy at its founding and continues to draw a leery, sometimes angry, response from the public. However, the group maintains that it fights solely for the rights and protections provided in the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

Although over its history the nonprofit has fought on behalf of seemingly opposing groups – like abortion rights and right to life – the common thread is the threat to the Bill of Rights.

“We see ourselves as playing an important role in American democracy,” ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said.

aclu timeline“We need to tell people over and over again why we do it,” she said, referring to defending the Constitution. The more people understand why the ACLU of Indiana asks questions, “the more they understand democracy, the better citizens they are, and that benefits everybody.”

Different day, same battle

At the center of many constitutional battles between the ACLU of Indiana and the state and federal governments has been Indianapolis attorney Lawrence Reuben.

Through his work with the organization, Reuben has represented the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis, and Muslim and Jewish prisoners. He did not always share his clients’ beliefs, but he still fought to protect their right to have those beliefs.

Reuben started practicing in the early 1970s when the protests were raging over Vietnam and the overreach of the Nixon administration was coming to light. He cannot single out a reason for why he became involved with the ACLU of Indiana other than to explain that he has always been interested in “that little piece of paper that Madison and Jefferson and the boys sat in a room in Philadelphia and wrote.”

Continual violations and infringements on rights are not evidence that the ACLU of Indiana has had little impact, Henegar said. Rather the ongoing defense of civil liberties is reflective of a vibrant democracy.

Government is always changing, she said. New public servants take office, new legislative bodies convene, new government agencies start operations, and everyday human beings apply constitutional principles to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has been opposing counsel in several ACLU legal actions. He echoed Henegar in saying that the judicial branch functions properly when both sides are well represented.

“I never complain about individuals or various groups exercising their right to file legal challenges against state statutes they disagree with,” he said. “… Legal challenges are an important safeguard built in to the system to protect against all levels of government exceeding their bounds.”

Pointing to recent headlines about the federal government’s covert surveillance program of cell phones, Reuben sees the founding principles being trampled. Although he believes the actions have put the survival of the republic in jeopardy, he maintains the situation would have been worse if the ACLU had not fought earlier battles over free speech and privacy.

“I think we’d be in deeper doo-doo than we are now,” he said, “and we are in some serious trouble.”

‘Weakest and least powerful’

Henry Price was a young litigator in Indianapolis when he attended a city council meeting in the late 1960s to argue against a pending ordinance barring the production of the musical “Hair.”

As he was waiting for his two minutes to speak, a young African-American man addressed the council, explaining he wanted to file a complaint of police brutality. No city agency would listen to him, he said, so he was appealing to the council.

The alleged beating was part of a larger incident in an African-American neighborhood where police arrested 130 individuals. During the melee, the young man said law enforcement took him behind a mattress factory and beat him.

The members of the council replied they could not help him because they did not have jurisdiction over the police department.

Switching from being a private attorney to being an ACLU attorney, Price told the council it was not a question of jurisdiction but of political will. He then convinced the council to appoint a committee on the matter and hold a hearing.

For three days, he brought witness after witness to testify what had happened that night until a judge enjoined the proceedings. However, by that time, all the charges had been dropped except for one misdemeanor.

“People who have their rights violated,” Price said, “are often the weakest and least powerful.”

In the roadblock case, the least powerful were the drivers being pulled over.

The cert petition for Indianapolis v. Edmonds was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court when Scott Chinn started his new job as the city’s corporation counsel in 2000. Having spent much of his career working in government, Chinn had tangled with the ACLU of Indiana at every level of state and federal courts.

The justices took the case and in a 6-3 ruling found for Edmonds. Even though in the past the court had favored suspicionless searches to stop drunk driving or illegal immigration, it concluded Indianapolis had carried the practice too far.

Thirteen years later, Chinn, now a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, can readily recall the details of that case, the precedents and the nuances of the ruling. He does not harbor resentment over the case but instead applauds the legacy of the ACLU.

“I like it best when my government clients appreciate that part of the checks and balances that we need to have in government, in our democracy, is realizing the need to have a strong advocate for civil liberties to challenge government actions,” Chinn said.

The photograph of the overpass in Falk’s office does not indicate he considers this the most significant case he has handled. Indeed, a weary smile spread across his face when asked which cases in his nearly 20 years at the ACLU of Indiana have been the most important.

Some cases are lost, some cases are won, Falk said, but there’s always another case.•

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  • ADA Title Two lawsuit
    Good morning, I am Don Oberloh and am a party in a civil rights discrimination lawsuit with our city of Mishawaka. For three years I have been unsuccessful in achieving any dialogue with the City Council, the last two Mayors, or the City Attorney. I was told via e-mail by then city attorney, Cory Hamel, that if I did not stop contacting City Employees the would prosecute me. When the city refused to provide accommodations to city hall Meeting because of multiple architectural barriers, than would not do the same at my place of polling, which is in our city and owned by the city, I felt compelled to take the city to court and hopefully have the Jude compel them to start making all new construction compliant and develop a doable transition plan for the barriers they constructed with Federal funds for the last 22 years. I have been lied to by the cities hired law firm, the attorney fraudulently lied to the court and the court will not allow me to speak I their over sites at two hearing during the discovery period. I have not been able to afford an attorney, and after speaking to six different ones I had no luck with them getting paid at the end of a successful trial. I in need of legal council or at the least some guidance on the proper method to respectfully request the court review its decent oversight and withdraw a sanction and withdraw a protection order allowing the city to not answer interrogatories. I am not sure if Fed R Civ P rule 60 is the proper one to file it under. Please help, if I don't convince our city to stop taking federal funds and ignoring their legal obligations our city will be in for some tough economic times when the piper comes calling, and those with mobility disabilities such as myself lose out in participating in our city's services and programs. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely Don Oberloh

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  1. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  2. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

  3. Low energy. Next!

  4. Had William Pryor made such provocative statements as a candidate for the Indiana bar he could have been blackballed as I have documented elsewhere on this ezine. That would have solved this huuuge problem for the Left and abortion industry the good old boy (and even girl) Indiana way. Note that Diane Sykes could have made a huuge difference, but she chose to look away like most all jurists who should certainly recognize a blatantly unconstitutional system when filed on their docket. See footnotes 1 & 2 here: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html Sykes and Kanne could have applied a well established exception to Rooker Feldman, but instead seemingly decided that was not available to conservative whistleblowers, it would seem. Just a loss and two nice footnotes to numb the pain. A few short years later Sykes ruled the very opposite on the RF question, just as she had ruled the very opposite on RF a few short years before. Indy and the abortion industry wanted me on the ground ... they got it. Thank God Alabama is not so corrupted! MAGA!!!

  5. OK, take notice. Those wondering just how corrupt the Indiana system is can see the picture in this post. Attorney Donald James did not criticize any judges, he merely, it would seem, caused some clients to file against him and then ignored his own defense. James thus disrespected the system via ignoring all and was also ordered to reimburse the commission $525.88 for the costs of prosecuting the first case against him. Yes, nearly $526 for all the costs, the state having proved it all. Ouch, right? Now consider whistleblower and constitutionalist and citizen journalist Paul Ogden who criticized a judge, defended himself in such a professional fashion as to have half the case against him thrown out by the ISC and was then handed a career ending $10,000 bill as "half the costs" of the state crucifying him. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/ogden-quitting-law-citing-high-disciplinary-fine/PARAMS/article/35323 THE TAKEAWAY MESSAGE for any who have ears to hear ... resist Star Chamber and pay with your career ... welcome to the Indiana system of (cough) justice.

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