Reporter tells court 1st Amendment lawsuit will end if AG Rokita has ‘change of heart’

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Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, the political pundit who is suing Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita after being barred from a press conference about robocalls, is trying to keep his lawsuit alive by telling a federal court that the state’s top lawyer is ignoring “the foundational role that a free, uninhibited press performs in our society.”

Shabazz’s assertions and arguments are included in his response to Rokita’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Shabazz v. Rokita, 1:22-cv-268. Describing himself as a “well known as a reporter and writer about Indiana politics,” Shabazz claims Rokita is violating the First Amendment by preventing him from attending all the attorney general’s press conferences since October 2021.

In his response filed Tuesday in the Southern Indiana District Court, Shabazz proposed a way to end the litigation.

“To be sure, if General Rokita has had a change of heart and is willing to commit to allowing the plaintiff to attend future press conferences on the same terms and conditions as other credentialed members of this media, he may end this litigation by saying so — although he must say so in a manner that satisfies his ‘heavy burden’ of demonstrating that ‘subsequent events [have] made it absolutely clear that the alleged wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur,’” the response states, citing Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw. Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. at 189 (2000).

Shabazz urged the federal court to allow the lawsuit to continue because he said he is still suffering injury, and the ongoing ban from the attorney general’s press conferences is unconstitutional.

Rokita’s motion to dismiss presented the incident as something that happened in the past that did not constitute a “real and immediate threat of future injury” to the plaintiff.

But Shabazz maintained he is still being banned from the attorney general’s press events. Also, in a footnote, he questioned Rokita’s assertion: “General Rokita’s decision to seek dismissal of this action based on his erroneous characterization of the plaintiff’s claim as addressing a one-time injury that took place last October which simultaneously advancing an ongoing need to prevent the plaintiff from attending future press conferences is, to say the least, curious.”

On his First Amendment claim, Shabazz countered Rokita’s argument that the First Amendment does not establish a generalized right to access information or for member of the media to interact with government officials. The political commentator maintained the attorney general does not have to hold press conferences, but once a media event is held, Rokita can neither discriminate based on the attendees’ viewpoints nor impose restrictions that are not reasonable.

Also, Shabazz attacked the argument that he was given access because he was permitted to watch a livestream of the robocall press conference. Having to watch remotely, he said, did not give him the opportunity to ask questions or speak informally with officials.

“… (T)he most notable problem with General Rokita’s argument is that he ignores what ‘equal access’ actually means,” the response continues. “The plaintiff is permitted to watch General Rokita’s press conferences via livestream but is not allowed in-person access to the conferences; all other credentialed members of the media are allowed either to watch the livestream or to attend in person. By no stretch of the imagination is this ‘equal.’”

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