Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Ind. Gov't. - "Attorney general should stop filing friend-of-the-court briefs"
That is the headline to this Letter to the Editor in today's Indianapolis Star:
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller in an Aug. 10 letter in The Star defended his decision to file yet another friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court — this time in a case from New York challenging the conduct of legislative prayer.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the attorney general’s position on the merits, his voluntary participation in this case raises an issue that troubles us as attorneys and as taxpayers. Simply stated, Zoeller has shown an unseemly proclivity to weigh in — ostensibly on behalf of all Hoosiers — on so-called “culture war” issues not directly related to Indiana. This time, it’s public prayer; a few months ago, it was opposition to federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where such marriages are legal.
These forays into matters not directly involving Indiana or its residents may play well with the Republican Party’s religiously conservative base, but they do not serve the interests of the broader Indiana community. Indiana was not a party to those cases, and it was unnecessary to take a side in matters about which Hoosiers remain sharply divided.
Zoeller defended his culture war activism by noting his office “routinely” files friend-of-court briefs. This is precisely what concerns us. Just as courts exercise judicial restraint and refrain from deciding issues not squarely before them, we believe that Zoeller should show similar restraint by not volunteering Indiana as a partisan “culture warrior” in cases to which the state is not a party. He claims no tax money is involved in the preparation of these briefs, because his staff researches and writes them. That staff, of course, is paid with Hoosiers’ tax dollars.
If lawyers in the office have enough time to work on numerous legal matters not germane to state business, it would seem the office is overstaffed.
Zoeller denies he is advocating any personal position and is only seeking “finality” on this and other controversial issues. But, as any lawyer can attest, issues of this sort are never “final.” It is hard to escape the conclusion that Zoeller is using his public office to advocate for his personal religious views — views that are highly divisive in an increasingly pluralistic society. Such use of an elected office is improper, and it should stop.
Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe, LLP
Professor, Law and Policy, School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 14, 2013 10:33 AM
Posted to Indiana Government