Pharos-Tribune

State News

September 10, 2012

ACLU lawyer makes case for liberties for all

Falk finds common ground among state residents with cases

INDIANAPOLIS — The contents of Ken Falk’s office tell a story about what it’s like to be the state’s leading civil liberties lawyer.

He has a drawer full of hate mail along with thank-you notes of gratitude, a shelf of rocks that were thrown through his window, and a goose-quill pen from the counsel table inside the U.S. Supreme Court in a frame hanging on the wall.

The last item is a reminder of a case he argued in front on the nation’s high court in 2000 and the ruling handed down in his favor: The justices found it was unconstitutional for Indiana police to set up roadblocks and pull over motorists at random to conduct drug searches. The court called the practice a violation of Americans’ right to privacy.

Falk, 58, is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. He’s brought many high-profile cases that have infuriated some people along the way. His clients have included the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood and anti-abortion protesters.

But the 2000 roadblock case is one of his favorite to talk about because it illustrates, he said, how “we tend to take our constitutional rights for granted till we lose them.”

Falk had filed the case as a class-action lawsuit, argued on behalf of all citizens of Indiana. “The interesting thing about that case,” Falk said, “is that I received calls from people who said, ‘I never thought I’d call the ACLU about anything except to yell at you. But nobody is going to stop me in my car.’ ”

Falk and the ACLU have represented children, the disabled and other sympathetic causes that don’t get much press. But the story about the roadblock case is a good one to tell when Falk finds himself involved in cases like the ones that have made headlines in recent weeks.

Representing a sex offender who was mistakenly labeled a “violent sexual predator” by the state, Falk convinced a federal appeals court to declare Indiana’s sex offender registry unconstitutional because it violated due process. The same day that decision came down, in late August, Falk was in federal court in Indianapolis representing John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban fighter convicted of aiding terrorists during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Lindh, a Muslim housed in a special unit at the federal prison in Terre Haute, is suing the federal government to overturn a prison policy that prevents him and other detainees he’s housed with from performing their five daily prayers as a group.

Falk argued the prison policy violates Lindh’s religious freedom. Government lawyers argued prison officials would be crazy to allow Muslims convicted of terrorism and other crimes to gather together several times a day. A ruling on the case is pending.

Falk understands the Lindh case may be upsetting. He’ll candidly admit that it wasn’t easy for him personally to represent the Klan when it wanted a permit to march. The Klan’s “white supremacy” message is hard for Falk, who is Jewish and the father of a biracial child, to stomach.  

But the job of the ACLU, he argues, is to defend the principles of civil liberty granted by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, without an eye toward how unpopular or unappealing the holder of those rights may be.

Falk’s colleagues often borrow a favorite quote from him to explain their work. It reads: “The beauty and timeless value of the rights safeguarded by the Constitution is that these rights are not contingent on popularity or majority approval. The rights stand on their own, regardless of who is asserting them.”

Falk sees his job as an ACLU lawyer to make sure those rights keep standing.

“One of truly remarkable things about America is the Bill of Rights and our judicial system,” he said. “We don’t even stop to think about this, but it’s just remarkable that you or I can go to court, whomever we are, and say, ‘my rights are being violated’ and there is someone who listens.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
State News
  • 2 in custody after Greene County man found slain in home SOLSBERRY (AP) — Indiana State Police say two men considered persons of interest have been taken into custody after a Greene County man was found slain in his rural home. Sgt. Curt Durnil says Indianapolis police took 35-year-old Jason Lee Caldwell o

    July 21, 2014

  • Indiana's bills for highway damage face challenge INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A trucking company is asking the state appeals court to limit the Indiana Department of Transportation's authority to sue over damage done to state highways. The challenge is in court as the highway agency is trying to collect mor

    July 21, 2014

  • Downed jet victim was NW Indiana exchange student DEMOTTE (AP) — An Indiana University graduate student's boyfriend who died with her on the downed plane in Ukraine had spent six months in northwestern Indiana as a high school exchange student. Jenny Jonkman says Laurens Van Der Graaff came from the

    July 21, 2014

  • New alcohol charge against John Mellencamp's son BLOOMINGTON (AP) — The 20-year-old son of rock star John Mellencamp faces an underage drinking charge while awaiting resolution of charges that he and his brother seriously injured a man in a fight. Monroe County court records show Hud Mellencamp of

    July 21, 2014

  • Dozens attend vigil for Indiana boy who drowned AVON (AP) — The aunt of a 7-year-old boy who drowned in a neighborhood retention pond in suburban Indianapolis says she is working to establish free swimming lessons for inner-city children. Dozens of people attended a vigil Sunday evening for Javon

    July 21, 2014

  • Security to be tight at Expo event's final weekend INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis officials are taking extra steps to ensure safety at a popular downtown event in a year that has seen a surge in homicides. Police Chief Rick Hite said Friday that officers are increasing patrols and enforcing a curfe

    July 18, 2014

  • Purdue Northwest picked as name of merged campuses WEST LAFAYETTE (AP) — Purdue University Northwest has been picked as the new name for the merger of the school's two regional campuses in northwestern Indiana. The university's board of trustees on Friday approved the name that will cover the current

    July 18, 2014

  • Millersburg town marshal accused of stealing woman's panties MILLERSBURG (AP) — A northern Indiana town marshal is facing two misdemeanor counts for allegedly stealing panties belonging to his son's live-in girlfriend. The Elkhart Truth reports 59-year-old Millersburg Marshal David Keith Hathaway was charged W

    July 18, 2014

  • State reports budget surplus INDIANAPOLIS — As expected, the state closed its fiscal year with a budget surplus, due largely to spending cuts forced by Gov. Mike Pence.As of June 30, the state had a $106 million operating surplus and reserves of $2 billion, Auditor Suzanne Crouc

    July 16, 2014

  • NWS-PT071614 evan bayh.jpg Former governor Bayh weighs decision to run again WASHINGTON — Evan Bayh is keeping Indiana Democrats on hold.Party loyalists longing for a political savior to retake the governor’s office have been waiting on Bayh ever since he abruptly decided to leave the U.S. Senate and political life three year

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

The Pence administration continues to cut Indiana agency budgets despite a state surplus of $2 billion. Is this wise management of state funds?

Yes
No
Not sure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.