I thought I’d share a letter that Bill Groth and I wrote to the editor of the Star, published today (at least in the electronic version), for the benefit of the growing number of people who no longer read that publication.
To the Editor:
Attorney General Greg Zeller recently had a letter in The Indianapolis Star defending 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 entirely voluntary participation in this case raises an issue that troubles us as attorneys and as taxpayers. Simply stated, Attorney General Zeller has shown an unseemly proclivity to weigh in—ostensibly on behalf of all Hoosiers—on so-called “culture war” issues entirely unrelated 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 involving Indiana or its citizens 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 entirely unnecessary to take a side in matters about which Hoosiers remain sharply divided.
Zeller 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 Attorney General Zeller 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 spare time to work on numerous legal matters not germane to state business, it would seem the office is overstaffed.
Attorney General Zeller denies he is advocating any personal position and is only seeking “finality” on this and other controversial issues. But as any lawyer can attest, and the Attorney General surely knows, issues of this sort are never “final.” It is hard to escape the conclusion that Attorney General Zeller 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.