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July 5, 2013

BRIAN HOWEY: What is the cost of controversy?

Indiana has paid ACLU more than $900,000 since 2008.

What is the cost of controversy to you, the taxpayer?

In the past five years, legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly has defunded Planned Parenthood and created new immigration laws, and there have been moves to amend the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

In addition, the Indiana attorney general has challenged a key provision in the Affordable Care Act, and the Indiana treasurer attempted to thwart the 2009 merger of Chrysler and Fiat.

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed these controversial measures over increasingly smaller and weaker Democratic minorities. The responding Democratic battle cry often has been: See you in court.

And we’ve seen the law defunding Planned Parenthood and parts of the immigration law struck down by the federal appellate courts.

In fact, from 2008 to the present, the state has paid $916,426.37 in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in 16 lawsuits where the ACLU prevailed against the state.

Recently, Indiana dodged another showdown when the Bureau of Motor Vehicles reinstated the specialty plate of a gay-youth advocacy group. ACLU attorney Ken Falk agreed to dismiss yet another federal lawsuit in return for the restoration of the plates.

The irony here is that Hoosier lawmakers and officeholders — many carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their pockets — routinely pass legislation that fails to pass constitutional muster.

When seeking the cost of controversy, the easiest answer comes in the Chrysler-Fiat merger challenge by Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who paid $2 million to the New York law firm of White & Case in a case the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear.

Many of the other controversial cases did end up with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office. And this is where the question of how much do Indiana taxpayers spend on these cases winds up in an apples-vs.-oranges dynamic.

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