Shabazz files First Amendment lawsuit against Attorney General Rokita

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz

The feud between political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, which began when Shabazz was barred from a press conference in October, has spilled over into federal court.

A lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana is asking for an injunction against the Indiana attorney general that will allow Shabazz to attend and participate in press conferences and similar events to which only credentialed press members are invited.

Shabazz announced the lawsuit Monday on his website, IndyPolitics.org. He posted a personal account of the October incident and stated he had filed a lawsuit over the denial of access.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana also issued a press release Monday saying it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Shabazz against the attorney general for violating the First Amendment.

The “attorney general’s decision to ban Mr. Shabazz from press events is not viewpoint neutral,” Ken Falk, legal director of ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “Blocking a journalist from attending a press conference because one does not agree with their reporting is a clear violation of the First Amendment. A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government actions or wrongdoings.”

The Attorney General’s Office stood firm and said it will defend its actions.

“We 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,” Kelly Stevenson, spokesperson for the attorney general, said in an email. “As one of the most accessible and highly covered elected officials in the state, it’s clear that Hoosiers know what our Attorney General is doing on their behalf, and they appreciate it.”

According to the complaint, Shabazz submitted the required RSVP to attend the Oct. 14 press conference where Rokita announced his office was taking legal action against alleged “robocalling scammers.”

However, when Shabazz arrived at the attorney general’s office in the Indiana Statehouse, he was not permitted to enter the conference room where the press briefing was to be held. The staff person at the door indicated Shabazz was not a credentialed member of the media.

The complaint notes Shabazz holds a degree in broadcasting and journalism from Northern Illinois University as well as a law degree from St. Louis University. He has covered Indiana politics for the Indianapolis radio stations WXNT and WIBC and the Indianapolis television stations WRTV, WISH and Fox59. Also, he has written opinion pieces for Indianapolis Business Journal, The Indianapolis Star, TheStatehouseFile.com and NUVO, according to the complaint.

In addition, Shabazz is the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org, a political news website that he has owned and operated for 12 years. Also, he publishes a periodic newsletter, the Cheat Sheet, which is billed as a “compilation of pure gossip, rumor, and blatant innuendo.”

Although Shabazz has a media badge issued by the Indiana Department of Administration, the complaint states he was told by the Attorney General’s Office told he was not credentialed for the press conference and would have to watch the event via livestream.

That ignited the current feud.

Immediately, the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote an open letter to the attorney general, calling his decision to bar Shabazz “reckless and unconstitutional.”

“These actions reflect a cavalier and indifferent regard for not only the First Amendment, but the Indiana state laws which you are sworn to uphold,” the letter continued. “We find these actions to be a threat to press freedom and to our very democracy.”

John Krull, director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, wrote a column for The Herald-Times, characterizing the “dust-up” between Rokita and “Indiana media personality” Shabazz as evidence of the attorney general’s alleged dislike of having to answer questions.

In a story in the Star, the Attorney General’s Office said its press conferences are for “actual journalists” and not for “gossip columnists.”

“Shabazz, by his own admission, promotes disinformation so much so that he must disclaim his work as ‘gossip, rumor and blatant innuendo,’ in order to escape from being sued for defamation,” the Attorney General’s Office told the Star. “Therefore, an OAG press conference concerning a serious investigation is not an appropriate venue for Shabazz.”

In a column for IBJ, Shabazz wrote that Rokita could block anyone in the press corps from a press conference, and such an act is unacceptable. He concluded, “I hope Rokita will just come clean and admit his hatred for me is stronger than his love for the state and federal constitutions. I don’t think that’s going to happen without a court order.”

At the bottom of the column, Shabazz is identified as “an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian.”

The complaint highlights that the press conference is not the first run-in between Shabazz and Rokita. In 2018, Rokita objected to Shabazz moderating a debate between the candidates to fill Dan Coats’ seat in the U.S. Senate.

According to the complaint, Rokita, who was running for Senate, said the debate “should be moderated by conservatives, not ‘liberal media figures’ and ‘liberal college professors.’”

The complaint states that after the October press conference, Shabazz asked the Attorney General’s Office for the criteria it used to determine who was credentialed media. He did not receive a response.

Also, Shabazz sent a public records request to the attorney general, seeking documents describing the reasons for approving or denying media requests as well as documents regarding the interviews Rokita had given since being sworn into office in January 2021. According to the complaint, the Attorney General’s Office only responded that it was reviewing the request.

“The Attorney General’s decision to ban Mr. Shabazz from press events is not reasonable given that Mr. Shabazz was and remains a credentialed member of the media,” the complaint states, adding that Rokita denied access either because of his personal antipathy toward Shabazz or his opinion that Shabazz’s reporting is too liberal. “In either event, the Attorney General’s decision to ban Mr. Shabazz from press events is not viewpoint neutral.

“At all times, General Rokita has acted under color of state law,” the complaint continues. “The actions of General Rokita are causing Mr. Shabazz irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.”

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12 thoughts on “Shabazz files First Amendment lawsuit against Attorney General Rokita

    1. I talk about how the current leading Republicans are lacking and I get bashed for being a Democrat. Is it too much to ask for a simple, competent, Republican gubernatorial candidate for 2024? The current situation is dire enough that I wish Holcomb could run again in 2024.

      The current field of candidates is a joke. You’ve got Rokita. You’ve got Mike Braun who is completely over his head in elected office. You’ve got someone who moved here to buy a seat with Dad’s money in Hollingsworth with apparently more money to burn. (Lugar got ditched for not living here but it’s different with Hollingsworth. Whatever.)

      Todd Rokita does garbage like this with our tax dollars every couple weeks yet Republicans refuse to do anything about it. Everyone in the world knew Rokita would be this kind of performative AG trying to reboot his career yet “Republicans” held their nose and voted for Rokita less than two years after sending him to the sidelines, where he belonged.

      The Todd Rokita as Secretary of State who once proposed to make it harder to gerrymander voting districts in Indiana? Long, long gone.

    2. Joe you “get bashed” because you are a Democrat and every post is a far left opinion. If only IN had a Cuomo to show us how to govern….
      You imply Holcomb is somehow a poor Governor. Yes, Braun purchased an election, hardly a partisan act. Same for Trey. Joe, were you equally upset when Hilary carpetbagged her NY Senate seat? Lugar didn’t “get dumped” because he didn’t live here. He lost an election because the voters got tired of a career politician that no longer represented their views.
      Yes, we have very poor choices for most elections. That is because government jobs are where incompetent people go to hide. Look at the last 2 presidential cycles. 40+ candidates and we produced the 2 worst Presidents in the last 100 years back to back.
      Your political party now has the most important criteria for any job as gender and skin color. When the conversation is lamenting the quality of candidates, you might want to sit down.

    3. I voted for Holcomb. Here are the Republicans that I passed on voting for in 2020:

      Donald Trump / Mike Pence
      Todd Rokita
      Jack Sandlin
      John Jacob

      So spare me that I’m a Democrat. I haven’t changed. The above list is a bunch of people who aren’t Republicans and are not suited to hold elected office, not a one of them. You may be able to compromise your values and vote for such “leaders”, but I am not.

      And Lugar doesn’t represent their views? More like he wasn’t willing to compromise and be one of those RINO’s that has destroyed the Republican Party. The type of RINO who repeats lies like “Obama wasn’t born here”. The type of RINO who doesn’t see Democrats as Americans but as “the enemy” while giving comfort to anti democratic strongmen. The type of RINO who feels the only people who should be punished for January 6th are the Republicans who dare not go along with the lies.

      If you thought Richard Mourdock was better for Indiana than Dick Lugar, you should re-evaluate your belief system and how you got so far out in the weeds.

  1. Note to IBJ publisher: put Shabazz on your masthead as a Contributing Editor and give him a photo ID to gain access to official government events. Then we’ll see what Rokita really is.

    1. Shabazz already a media credential. Rokita ignores it because he doesn’t like what Abdul wrote about him years ago.

      Rokita should be impeached for this stupidity. That’s two totally unfit Attorney General’s in a row. Maybe it’s time for this position to be appointed by the Governor instead of elected.

  2. Rokita can inspire strong words. Let’s hope it continues and translates into strong actions when Mr. Repeal and Replace Obamacare is on the ballot again. That publicity hound is probably enjoying this, believing as the extremists do that the only bad publicity is in the Obituaries.

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