AG Rokita says no constitutional right to interact with government officials

Claiming freedom of speech does not guarantee the right to hear a government official deliver a message in person, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is seeking dismissal of a First Amendment case brought by an Indianapolis-based political commentator who was barred from a press conference.

Rokita’s office has filed a motion to dismiss in response to the lawsuit, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz v. Todd Rokita, 1:22-cv-268. The case stems from an October 2021 press conference about robocalls, during which the Attorney General’s Office denied entry to Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, saying he was not a properly credentialed member of the media.

The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Shabazz is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

In his motion, Rokita argues the case should be dismissed because the Constitution does not give members of the press the right to interact with government officials at press conferences. Also, the attorney general asserts Shabazz lacks standing because the plaintiff is not facing any immediate threat of future injury that would justify injunctive relief.

Rokita claims Shabazz emailed the Office of the Attorney General in advance of the October 2021 press conference, seeking to reserve a spot. However, the motion states, Shabazz received a reply indicating he was “not credentialed for this event.”

Rokita asserts he did not violate Shabazz’s First Amendment rights because the commentator still had access to the same real-time information through a livestream.

“Because the Attorney General provided Plaintiff with the same information available to those in attendance at the limited press conference through a livestream — in real time — no denial of ‘equal access’ occurred or is threatened in the future,” Rokita argues in his brief. “Plaintiff has the same access to the message conveyed and the information disclosed by the Attorney General at the press conference as all other news media and members of the general public.”

In addition, Rokita brushes off the contention that having to watch remotely did not give Shabazz the opportunity to ask questions or have informal conversations with officials prior to or after the press conference.

“Neither the press nor members of the general public have a constitutional right to interact with a government official at a press conference,” Rokita states in his brief. “The Supreme Court has never recognized a constitutional obligation for a government official to disclose government-held information, to respond to a particular reporter in a press conference, or to otherwise interact with the media.”

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