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Indiana legal community remembers legacy of Birch Bayh

March 20, 2019
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When the federal courthouse in downtown Indianapolis was renamed in honor of Birch Bayh, Judge Richard Young recalled being a young college graduate and first encountering the Hoosier senator in the cornfields of Iowa.

Bayh, who had served in the U.S. Senate since 1963 and had already introduced and successfully shepherded the 25th Amendment and the 26th Amendment to ratification, was campaigning in 1975 in the Hawkeye State for the presidency.

Young was impressed and a short time later joined the Bayh campaign, becoming one of a handful of staffers barnstorming through Iowa. But Bayh’s candidacy was short-lived. He was deemed too liberal with his support of women’s rights, abortion rights and gun control, and withdrew from the race after a poor showing in the state’s caucus.

However, Bayh remained friends with Young.

Years later, after moving to Indiana and establishing himself as a lawyer, Young was recommended by the senator for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. At his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate, Young was joined by Bayh. Young remembered then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, greeting Bayh and exchanging pleasantries.

“I have been truly blessed to have the friendship of Birch Bayh,” Young said at the dedication of the courthouse in 2003, “and I believe all Hoosiers have been blessed to have this extraordinary individual represent us in the Indiana House of Representatives and the United States Senate.”

Bayh, who died March 14 at the age of 91, is being remembered by the Indiana legal community for his extensive career in public service and leadership on the major issues of his time, including civil rights and women’s rights.

“He was always very grateful to the people of Indiana for the opportunity they gave him to serve in the Senate for 18 years,” said Barnes & Thornburg partner Bill Moreau, who served in Bayh Senate office from 1977 to 1981. “He derived great joy from that service, which he imbued in those of us who were lucky enough to serve at his side.”

When Bayh arrived in Washington as a 34-year-old senator, he joined the efforts to secure civil rights for African-Americans, co-sponsoring the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Later, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he led the successful efforts to defeat two segregationist judges, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, who had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Hoosier Democrat got his first taste of politics as an undergraduate at Purdue University, when in the spring of 1950 he ran for president of his senior class, according to the Birch Bayh Biography from the Indiana University archives. He won and noted the experience was a turning point in his life.

A few years after returning to the family farm in Shirkieville, Bayh and his wife, Marvella, began a successful campaign for the Indiana House of Representatives. He rose quickly in the Statehouse, becoming Democratic minority leader, then, at 30, served as the youngest speaker in Indiana history.

State leaders remembered Bayh and his legacy in public service. The Indiana Senate observed a moment of silence in honor of Bayh during its session March 14.

“Sen. Bayh understood that we cannot be a completely free country if some citizens are not given the same rights as others,” Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said. “By playing a vital role in crafting and passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he showed the country that Indiana can lead the way in making sure all people are guaranteed equality under the law.”

Closer to home, Bayh championed equal opportunity by recommending Frank Anderson to be a U.S. marshal for the Southern Indiana District. Anderson was already a trailblazer, having become the first African-American to be a patrol officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. With his successful nomination, he became the first African-American deputy U.S. marshal and then the first African-American U.S. marshal in the Southern Indiana District.

“Birch was a friend and supporter throughout most of my career,” Anderson said. “He was a public elected official who worked with both political parties to support what was best for the people. He would leave the donkey and elephant outside the door, get to the table and do what the people elected him to do.”

Bayh’s legal career began while he was serving in the Indiana Statehouse. At the encouragement of his wife, he enrolled in Indiana University Maurer School of Law and settled with his young family in a one-bedroom apartment on the Bloomington campus.

“Sen. Bayh will leave a lasting legacy, not only as a distinguished senator and statesman but also as a good friend of the Maurer School of Law and as a member of our Academy of Law Alumni Fellows, the highest honor the school can bestow,” dean Austen Parrish said. “Each year, new law students at orientation are told about his work with Title IX and other historic legislation. All of us at the law school community are grateful for his many contributions to our state and our nation.”

Flags were being flown at half-staff throughout the state and at the federal courthouse that bears his name.

At the courthouse dedication ceremony in 2003, Judge David Hamilton, now of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, credited Bayh with inspiring a generation of younger Americans to believe that public service can be a force to improve the lives of fellow citizens.

“… Sen. Birch Bayh has made a difference,” Hamilton told the crowd. “He had made a difference for the stability of our government and for its basic fairness. And he has made a difference for women and minorities, and for some of the most powerless among us.”•

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