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Lawsuit claims Rokita violated First Amendment by barring journalist from press conferences

Indiana Governor
Posted at 9:32 AM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 14:51:49-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of an Indianapolis-based journalist alleges Attorney General Todd Rokita violated the First Amendment when he prohibited the journalist from attending his press conferences.

The complaint says Abdul-Hakim Shabazz was denied entry to Rokita’s news conferences beginning in October 2021, despite having an official media credential.

Rokita’s office released a statement following the Oct. 14 news conference saying Shabazz was a gossip columnist and not an actual journalist, according to the complaint. Shabazz is the editor and publisher of Indy Politics, the host of “Abdul at Large” on WIBC and the host of Indiana Issues, a statewide radio public affairs program.

He has also appeared on WRTV’s Political Insiders segments.

On Monday, Rokita’s press secretary Kelly Stevenson said in an emailed statement the Attorney General’s Office will “defend and potentially counterclaim against it aggressively since we are confident that our actions are legally sound and needed to protect staff against professional harassment while defending constituents from the ‘rumors, gossip and blatant innuendo’ Shabazz directly admits to peddling, along with his other non-journalism revenue streams.”

The complaint says Shabazz was a moderator at a 2018 Republican U.S. Senate primary election debate in which Rokita participated. Rokita objected to Shabazz moderating the event and said the debate should moderated by conservatives and not “liberal media figures” and “liberal college professors.”

Rokita lost the primary election for U.S. Senate. He was elected Indiana Attorney General in 2020.

“This goes to the heart of the First Amendment and our U.S. Constitution,” Shabazz said in a written statement. “If Attorney General Rokita can ignore this and ban me from his news conferences, then he can do it to anyone in the press corps and that can’t be good for democracy and transparency.”

Shabazz remains banned from Rokita’s press conferences, the complaint says.

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a statement that Rokita’s decision to ban Shabazz from press conferences is based on personal antipathy or that he thinks Shabazz’s reporting is too liberal.

“Blocking a journalist from attending a press conference because one does not agree with their reporting is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Falk said. “A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government actions and wrongdoings.”