The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit today on behalf of journalist, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, against Attorney General Todd Rokita. Shabazz has been barred from attending the Attorney General’s press conferences, beginning in October 2021, in violation of the First Amendment.
Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an Indianapolis-based journalist who has covered state politics and Indiana government for almost two decades. Shabazz is currently the editor and publisher of Indy Politics, a website that reports on Indiana government and politics. He is also the host of “Abdul at Large”, a weekend radio program at WIBC-FM and the host of Indiana Issues, a statewide radio public affairs program. He also contributes to a number of Indianapolis media outlets. Despite having official media credentials from the Indiana Department of Administration, Attorney General Rokita barred Shabazz from the Attorney General’s press conferences.
The Attorney General held a press conference on October 14, 2021 for credentialed media only, at which Shabazz was denied entrance. After the event, the Attorney General’s office released a statement indicating that Shabazz was not an actual journalist and was merely a gossip columnist.
"This goes to the heart of the First Amendment and our U.S. Constitution. 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 said. "If Rokita is going to call for transparency and more openness when it comes to Hoosier public schools, then the least he can do is practice what he preaches when it comes to his own office."
The actions taken by the Attorney General came after Shabazz was selected to moderate a Republican Senate debate in 2018, in which then-candidate Rokita, was participating. It is reported that then-candidate Rokita objected to Mr. Shabazz moderating the debate and stated that the debate should be moderated by conservatives, not “liberal media figures.”
“As the complaint notes, the Attorney General’s decision to ban Mr. Shabazz is based on either personal antipathy or on the opinion that Mr. Shabazz’s reporting is too ‘liberal,’ or perhaps based on both. In either event, the Attorney General’s decision to ban Mr. Shabazz from press events is not viewpoint neutral. Blocking a journalist from attending a press conference because one does not agree with their reporting is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. “A free media functions as a watchdog that can investigate and report on government actions or wrongdoings.”
Shabazz remains banned from Attorney General Rokita’s press conferences, but regularly attends press briefings, as a credentialed member of the press, of other elected officials in the Indiana Statehouse, including Governor Holcomb.