ACLU always controversial

August 5, 2008
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In an obituary for Indianapolis attorney Alan Nolan, I learned that he was one of the founders of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, now the ACLU of Indiana. According to law firm Ice Miller’s Web site, Nolan and attorney Merle Miller, another founder, created a stir by starting a branch of the national organization here. Some believe the ACLU was linked to communism, a hot issue in the 1950s McCarthy era. Following its formation, the organization was immediately banned from meeting at the Indiana World War Memorial because of allegations the ICLU lacked patriotism, according the ACLU of Indiana’s Web site.

From Day 1 the organization founded to defend people’s rights has been controversial.

When it first started, it tackled cases involving the building of a large cross on public property, reinstating college students who were expelled after leaving the Indiana State University campus o attend a peace march in Washington, D.C., and prisoners’ rights at Indiana jails.

More recently, the ACLU has taken cases involving what type of prayer is acceptable before sessions of the Indiana House of Representatives, voters challenging Indiana’s voter ID law, and a law requiring all sellers of sexually explicit material to register with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office and pay a fee.

Some feel the ACLU of Indiana is needed in today’s world as a champion for every citizen’s rights under our constitutions, regardless of who the person is or to what group they belong.

Others don’t have as favorable a view of the ACLU of Indiana, believing the organization is simply anti-prayer, pro-immigrant, pro-gay, pro-choice, and supportive of controversial groups like prisoners, the Ku Klux Klan, and other extremists because it represents those groups in court.

Is it possible that the ACLU of Indiana is even more controversial now than it was when it was founded in the early 1950s? I guess that depends on which side you take on the issues the ACLU gets involved in.
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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

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