Indianapolis--Political parties in Marion County cannot prevent the free speech activities of candidates they do not back for election, and county officials cannot enforce an unconstitutional law used to impede such speech, a federal judge affirmed today.The Election Board's decision to seize Mulholland's literature in direct defiance of the 2003 consent decree, should have subjected the Board members, all of whom were attorneys and one a Marion County Superior judge as of January 1st, to sanctions for contempt of court. The non-Board attorneys who participated in the direct seizure of Mulholland's materials should also be brought before the court on contempt. They all almost certainly knew about the 2003 consent decree in which the Election Board admitted the statute was unconstitutional and agreed not to enforce it. Yet they arrogantly decided to enforce it against Mulholland anyway.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, in approving an agreed judgment filed by the parties, ruled that Indiana's "slating" statute -- Indiana Code § 3-14-1-2(a)(2) and (3) -- cannot be enforced. The order also provided that the Marion County Election Board cannot convene further hearings concerning the 2012 primary election or the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Zachary Mulholland, and required
compensation and fees to be paid to Mulholland and to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, who brought the case on his behalf.
In 2003 the Election Board conceded, in an approved judgment in a separate federal lawsuit, that Indiana's slating statute -- which made it a crime for a candidate in a primary election to publish election materials linking him with other candidates without prior permission and notice to the Board -- violated the First Amendment. Still, during the 2012 primary season, the Board enforced the statute against candidate Mulholland by seizing his campaign literature at polling sites on Election Day and demanding he appear for a hearing.
In March the ACLU of Indiana won an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of Mulholland, a candidate for state representative, and the case was remanded to federal court for a final judgment. Seventh Circuit Court Judge David Hamilton wrote in the opinion that the Election Board's pursuit of action against Mulholland "shaves very close to harassment or bad faith prosecution."
"The Judge's decision today is a major victory for our plaintiff and for the First Amendment," said Kenneth J. Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director, who argued the case with ACLU of Indiana senior staff attorney Gavin M. Rose. "Government agencies cannot enforce laws that have been declared unconstitutional, and the Election Board cannot prevent voters from receiving information about candidates for public office."
"We agree with the Seventh Circuit that this has been an outrageous misuse of power," said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director. "The Election Board has wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private attorneys' fees in defense of actions that are indefensible. If the Board had admitted the unconstitutional nature of its behavior two years ago, the total cost to the taxpayers would have been a couple of hundred bucks, the cost of the seized pamphlets."
The decision, Zachary Mulholland v. Marion County Election Board, 1:12-CV-01502 SEB-MJD,was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, on Nov. 18, 2014.
Maybe a bigger outrage is the extraordinary amount of tax dollars that were spent to pay attorneys to defend the Election Board's completely indefensible position in this case. That was identified in the press release and deserves repeating:
"The Election Board has wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private attorneys' fees in defense of actions that are indefensible. If the Board had admitted the unconstitutional nature of its behavior two years ago, the total cost to the taxpayers would have been a couple of hundred bucks, the cost of the seized pamphlets."It remains to be seen whether the Election Board will, a few years down the road, attempt to enforce the statute once again against an unslated candidate. Unfortunately in this case there were zero consequences for those who directly defied a federal court order. They got what they wanted - campaign literature taken away from a competitive non-slated candidate - and the only people who ended up paying a price were the taxpayers.