Friday, June 08, 2012

Young Attorney Takes On Political Bosses

Zach Mulholland may belong to a political party other than my own, but I greatly admire him for pursuing a case against the Marion County political bosses who clearly violated his First Amendment rights when the Marion Co. Election Board acted like Hitler's Storm Troopers in ordering its agents to seize campaign fliers his campaign volunteers were handing to voters outside polling places during this year's primary election under the guise of enforcing a state law that was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal district court years ago. Mulholland challenged the Democratic slated candidate, Dan Forestal, in the 100th District House race. The Star's Jon Murray explains the  lawsuit the ACLU has brought against the Marion Co. Election Board on behalf of Mulholland challenging the state's so-called "anti-slate" law, which is kind of a misnomer:

A legal fight is brewing anew over a state law that critics view as empowering local political bosses to censor some campaign appeals printed by unfavored primary challengers.
In fact, Marion County and state election officials acknowledged that the same law was unconstitutional a decade ago in a settlement resolving a similar federal lawsuit.
But that 2003 federal consent decree hardly has put the issue to rest. It hasn't kept the Marion County Election Board, which operates with heavy influence from the political parties, from continuing to seize materials under the legally questionable law.
Indiana's "anti-slate" statute bans printed campaign appeals that invoke the names of other candidates without their written consent.
That's easy to obtain for the parties and their endorsed candidates -- but much less so for candidates going it alone.
Without that consent, campaign pieces still would run afoul of the law even if they didn't claim that the named candidates had endorsed the campaign. And merely encouraging voters to support the other figures or seeking to associate them with the candidate in voters' minds still would be a potential misdemeanor.
Mulholland's vertical campaign piece said simply "Vote Democrat" above the names and pictures of President Barack Obama, U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis, and gubernatorial candidate John Gregg.
At bottom was Mulholland's name and photo.
Like the earlier case, the new lawsuit rests on the argument that the anti-slating law violates a candidate's First Amendment right to free speech . . .
"I don't know how you can ignore a decision from a court that strikes the law down," Falk said. "If it's facially unconstitutional, that means it's unconstitutional for the next guy, too."
The three-member Election Board last month enforced the same law against Mulholland, as it has done a handful of times in recent years against candidates from both parties.
Mulholland, a 28-year-old lawyer and research analyst, is the first to sue, officials said.
While voting was under way May 8, the board decided unanimously at 8:20 a.m. to find Mulholland's hand cards in violation of the law. It sent agents to the polls to seize them from Mulholland and his supporters as they were giving them to voters.
The board has representatives from both parties. The Democratic and Republican county party chairmen each appoint a member to the board, and the county clerk, currently a Democrat, occupies the third seat.
Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Treacy lodged the complaint against Mulholland. He declined to comment Thursday through a spokesman.
And the official who ultimately seized the offending hand cards from Mulholland outside an Eastside church was Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic Party chairman.
Mulholland said Tew attempted to rip them out of his hands. Tew, who said he was deputized by the Election Board to carry out the order, declined to characterize the encounter.
"The statute's pretty clear," Tew said. "Whether it's constitutional or not, that's for the courts to decide. I was just enforcing the statute."
Mulholland says the deck seems stacked against a candidate who, like him, is running against the party-endorsed candidate in the primary.
He already had drawn the ire of party leaders. He signed an agreement to drop out of the primary if he lost the party's endorsement to Forestal but then reneged and continued to run.
Clerk Beth White said she voted in favor of the Election Board order because Mulholland's campaign pieces risked confusing voters, even if they didn't claim that Obama and the other party standard-bearers had endorsed him.
"It could be seen as a slate or an (implied) endorsement of those particular candidates," she said. "The statute exists to help voters be informed, and what he handed out was misleading."
And they call this the United States of America? It looks more like Nazi Germany to me. Paul Ogden's original post on the lawsuit is here. The Star's story doesn't mention that Paul was the original party to the federal lawsuit which declared the anti-slate law unconstitutional. The newspaper doesn't like bloggers, but its reporters will gladly sample our work for its own content.

UPDATE: The Star has appended information providing the background to Paul Ogden's earlier lawsuit in its online story that wasn't there when I first posted this entry earlier this morning.


Paul K. Ogden said...

I think you may have insulted Hitler's stormtroopers.

All kidding aside, the court should not cut any slack with the attorneys involved in this. They all knew that there was a federal injunction against enforcing that law, and they stuck their finger in the eye of Judge Tinder, and enforced it anyway.

I too admire Zach. It's a great thing he's doing standing up to those thugs.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Actually, it is more like the Communist Stalag here in Marion County. Revenge of the Party Chairs and theirs against those who unsuccessfully buck their slate.