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Indiana tunes in to national issues in federal courts

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What happens in Indiana regarding illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, and health-care reform may hinge on what happens with litigation playing out in the nation’s appellate courts.

With the recent federal court rulings on those three issues, attorneys in Indiana and most states are in a holding pattern until higher courts get involved and provide clear guidance on how those issues are to be handled. The exact impact isn’t known, but those who’ve been involved on one or both sides of these issues say they are closely watching what happens.

greg zoeller Zoeller

“Those issues relate to the broader issue of state sovereignty,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said through an office spokesman, Bryan Corbin. “Our office has a legal duty to defend the state of Indiana’s sovereign interest to enact and enforce its own state statutes.”

Here’s a look at the three ongoing cases and the legal issues they present, based on the merits and recent rulings.

Illegal immigration

On July 28, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton for the District of Arizona blocked the most controversial parts of that state’s immigration enforcement law from going into effect, a ruling that temporarily squashed a state policy that had sparked the national debate over immigration.

In her preliminary injunction, Judge Bolton delayed the most contentious provisions of the law, including a section that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. She also barred enforcement of parts requiring immigrants to carry their papers and that banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places ­– a move aimed at day laborers that congregate in large numbers in parking lots across Arizona. The judge also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants. She issued the injunction in response to a legal challenge brought against the law by the Obama administration.

“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,” said Bolton, a Clinton appointee who was assigned the seven lawsuits filed against Arizona regarding the law.

Other provisions that were less contentious were allowed to take effect, including a section that bars cities in Arizona from disregarding federal immigration laws.

Some states, such as Florida and Utah, have started tweaking their own state laws and proposed changes based on what Judge Bolton ruled. Lawmakers or candidates in as many as 18 states say they want to push similar measures when their legislative sessions start again in 2011, according to published reports.

Some lawmakers pushing the legislation said they won’t be daunted by the District ruling, but they will be watching Arizona to decide how they might proceed.

The same goes for Indiana, according to Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who’s unsuccessfully fought for illegal immigration legislation in recent years. He expects to introduce new legislation in the coming General Assembly session, and he’s reviewing the Arizona case and how other states are responding to decide how he might draft that bill.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t had any action from our federal lawmakers, and so we have to stand up for our citizens,” he said. “I’m keeping an eye on the courts to tailor a product that meets our needs. But this is an area that’s uncharted, and my hope is that we’re able to stand up for people who have real problems with illegal immigration.”

Same-sex marriage

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in the Northern District of California ruled Aug. 4 that the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, was unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses. The suit involves two gay couples who claimed that the 2008 voter-approved ban violated their civil rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Chief Judge Walker wrote in a 136-page opinion. “Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples.”

Chief Judge Walker originally stayed a decision about whether the ban should be respected or thrown out while appeals happen, but the judge reviewed that decision Aug. 12 and will allow same-sex couples to get married starting Aug. 18 unless a higher court intervenes. Opponents of the ruling have already appealed to the 9th Circuit, and both sides have vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States to decide.

This California case comes on the heels of one in Massachusetts, where in July a federal judge decided that the state’s legally married same-sex couples had been wrongly denied the federal financial benefits of marriage because of a law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions.

Currently, same-sex marriages are allowed in only four states besides California and Massachusetts – Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C. Indiana has a state law banning same-sex marriages, and efforts in recent years to weave that into a constitutional ban have been unsuccessful.

Just like in the illegal immigration debate, legal experts and those watching the same-sex marriage topic say those pending cases are likely to play into how states like Indiana approach the issue down the road.

“There’s been an increasing receptiveness to include same-sex couples in people’s definitions of family,” said Indiana University sociology professor Brian Powell, who has written about the issue and studied the state laws and most recent court rulings nationally. “If upheld, the decisions likely will propel even more people to accept and possibly embrace same-sex couples as a family.”

The AG’s office declined to comment on the constitutional element of the same-sex marriage issue, but Corbin said the state is closely watching those cases. He noted Zoeller has successfully defended Indiana’s statutory marriage definition from legal challenges in the past.

Health-care reform

On the health-care reform front, Judge Henry Hudson in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in early August that the nation’s first lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s landmark reform could proceed. He refused to dismiss the state’s lawsuit, which argues the requirement that its residents must have health insurance is unconstitutional and conflicts with state law.

Noting that his ruling is only an initial step in a long line of litigation, Judge Hudson decided the issue the state raised – whether forcing residents to buy something, namely health care, is constitutional – had not been fully tested in court and was ripe for review.

“The congressional enactment under review – the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision – literally forges new ground and extends (the U.S. Constitution’s) Commerce Clause powers beyond its current high watermark,” the judge wrote in a 32-page ruling. “While this case raises a host of complex constitutional issues, all seem to distill to the single question of whether or not Congress has the power to regulate – and tax – a citizen’s decision not to participate in interstate commerce.”

For Indiana, Zoeller has joined with 19 other states in a similar lawsuit filed by Florida that challenges the national health-care law. A hearing is set next month in federal court in that state on whether the case should be dismissed.

While his office is withholding specific comment about how Indiana should proceed in light of the federal cases, Zoeller supports taking the cases to higher courts.

“The unprecedented claim that the federal government has the right to require individuals to purchase a private health-insurance product is a question that ultimately ought to be decided by the Supreme Court,” he said.•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

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