Tyson Timbs, the Marion defendant who challenged the 2015 seizure of his $42,000 Land Rover after selling less than $400 worth of heroin, joins the selective and unexpected grouping of Hoosier litigants who shaped constitutional law by way of this state. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the Eighth Amendment ban on excessive civil fines applies to states, potentially thwarting local police departments’ ability to use civil forfeitures as a result of relatively minor criminal offenses.
Timbs joins nude dancers, a 15-year-old girl sterilized via a court order, Indiana Democrats challenging photo ID voter laws and partisan gerrymandering, and a political party that argued to overthrow the government in the abstract, among others. Some were successful and others were not but all established key Supreme Court precedents.
Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. (1991): Ever wonder why exotic dancers aren’t fully nude in Indiana when the First Amendment protects freedom of speech via conduct? This case from South Bend is why. A bookstore and a theater had fully nude dancers, which ran afoul of Indiana’s public indecency law that’s still in force today. The operators challenged the state’s nudity ban, claiming a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of expression. In a plurality opinion, the court held that the Indiana legislature was within its rights, looking at the history of Hoosier indecency laws, “protecting societal order and morality.”
Stump v. Sparkman (1978): A mother of a mildly intellectually disabled 15-year-old daughter asked a DeKalb County judge to order her daughter to be surgically sterilized to “prevent unfortunate circumstances.” That same day, Judge Harold Stump issued a court order authorizing the procedure without a hearing or other procedural due process. She underwent surgery shortly thereafter under the guise of an appendectomy. Two years later, after the girl got married and wasn’t getting pregnant, she discovered what the surgery actually was. She sought damages against the judge, but the Supreme Court did not agree. It held that Stump enjoyed immunity from his actions, even if done maliciously, in error or in excess of judicial authority. This has become the key case about judicial immunity.
Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008): Hoosier voters were the first in the nation required to show photo identification when they vote in person. Challengers to the 2005 photo ID law included the Indiana Democratic Party, elected officials and groups representing the interests of disabled and elderly voters. The court decided that the photo ID requirement was closely related to Indiana’s legitimate state interests in preventing voter fraud and was ultimately “neutral and nondiscriminatory.” Indiana is now one of seven states requiring photo ID when voting in person.
Davis v. Bandemer (1986): This case challenging the 1981 redistricting of the Indiana legislature got renewed attention last year with the Wisconsin partisan redistricting case about justiciable standards for apportioning voters by political party. Using an Equal Protection Clause analysis, the court held in a plurality that Hoosier Democrats’ lack of proportional representation – 51.9 percent of the cumulative vote but 43 out of 100 House seats – did not unconstitutionally diminish the party’s electoral power.
Communist Party of Indiana v. Whitcomb (1974): In 1972, Indiana required candidates to submit a sworn oath affirming their respective party did “not advocate the overthrow of local, state or national government by force or violence.” The Communist Party of Indiana candidates refused to file the oath and challenged the law. The court unanimously held that the oath violated the First Amendment because it interfered with a candidate’s choice of party without proof that the party was inciting imminent lawless action.
Ex parte Milligan (1866): Huntington lawyer Lambdin Milligan was tried in 1864 with three other defendants in a military commission in Indianapolis, charged with conspiracy against the U.S. government, offering aid and comfort to the confederacy, and inciting violence, after President Abraham Lincoln declared martial law to deal with Union dissenters. Here the court limited presidential power by clarifying military tribunal jurisdiction and deciding that trying citizens in military courts is unconstitutional when civilian courts are in operation.
Indiana v. Edwards (2008): Ahmad Edwards, although experiencing severe mental illness, wanted to represent himself without assistance of counsel in a retrial on charges of attempted murder and battery resulting from a 1999 theft and shooting in downtown Indianapolis. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that states may require representation by counsel for individuals who are competent enough to stand trial but have severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.
Rachel Blakeman is an attorney and the director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne.