This is one in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Each week through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
“During the time when I was litigating cases for the ACLU-KY, I indeed did get to meet a lot of wonderful people, and it is they whom I now remember with great affection and respect. For me, it’s been a blast.” -Robert Sedler
Robert Sedler served as the ACLU of Kentucky’s first general counsel from 1967 to 1975. Much of Sedler’s work with the ACLU-KY involved protecting citizen’s First Amendment rights. His first case with the ACLU-KY was filed after organizers against the Vietnam War and strip mining were arrested for “teaching sedition.” This victory secured the safety necessary for organizing activity to continue in Eastern Kentucky.
In 1968, the Kentucky legislature passed the Kentucky Un-American Activities Committee (KUAC), and Sedler was again able to help restore the rights of the suppressed. Sedler helped lead two cases against the constitutionality of KUAC which, while unsuccessful legally, were part of a broad-based opposition to KUAC which eventually ended with the program not being funded after 1970.
During the 1970’s, when racial discrimination and school segregation issues were at the forefront, Sedler stepped up to represent ACLU-KY in two major cases, the Lexington-Fayette County and the Louisville-Jefferson Country desegregation cases. The Lexington-Fayette County case ended with a plan that is still in use, while the Louisville-Jefferson County case established one of the only metropolitan areas which is still racially integrated to this day. Sedler would go on to fight racial segregation in areas such as high school basketball officiating and jury service.
Sedler fondly remembers the people with whom he worked in the ACLU-KY. “I tell my students the best thing about litigating civil rights and civil liberties cases is that you get to meet a lot of wonderful people in the process.” Sedler recalled specifically Tom Hogan, who Sedler said deserves the most credit for the successful implementation of the Louisville desegregation plan.
Summary of cases Sedler litigated for the ACLU-KY:
McSurely v. Ratliff, 262 F.Supp. 848 (E.D.Ky.1967) (With Center for Constitutional Rights) Successful challenge to Kentucky law prohibiting “teaching sedition”.
Black Unity League of Kentucky v.Miller, 394 U.S. 100 (1969 mem) Unsuccessful challenge to legislation establishing Kentucky Un-American Activities.
United States v. Dudley, 451 F.2d 1300 (6th Cir.1971) (successful defense of Jehovah’s Witness in draft prosecution)
United States v. Charles, 460 F.2d 1093 (6th Cir. 1972) (defense of Jehovah’s Witness in draft prosecution: conviction upheld, but sentence reduced)
Gay v. Board of Education, 466 F.2d 879 (6th Cir. 1972) successful challenge to Kentucky law requiring Louisville women who married to re–register to vote with their husband’s name
The challenge to Kentucky’s anti-abortion law - the Kentucky version of Roe v. Wade: Crossen v. Breckenridge, 446 F.2d 833 (6th Cir. 1971), Crossen v. Attorney-General, 344 F.Supp.587 (E.D.Ky.1972), vacated after Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 950 (1973)
Jefferson v. Board of Education of Fayette County, 344 F.Supp.688 (E.D.Ky.1972). Fayette County desegregation case.
Hetrick v. Martin, 480 F.2d 705 (6th Cir. 1973) Unsuccessful First Amendment challenge to failure to renew contract of instructor at Eastern Kentucky.
Preston v. Cowan, 69 F.Supp.14 (W.D.Ky. 1973) Successful challenge to prison censorship and other prison practices at Kentucky State Penitentiary, Eddyville.
Robinson v. Board of Regents of Eastern Kentucky University, 475 F.2d 707 (6th Cir.1973) unsuccessful gender discrimination challenge to university dormitory rule mandating hours for women students only.
Louisville-Jefferson County desegregation case: Newburg Area Council,Inc. v. Board of Education of Jefferson County, 489 F.2d 925 (6th Cir.1973); same 510 F.2d 578 (6th Cir.1974); Newburg Area Council,Inc. Gordon, 521 F.2d 578 (6th Cir.1975)
Wolfe v. Schroering, 388 F.Supp.631 (W.D.Ky.1974), 541 F.2d 523 (6th Cir.1976) Successful challenge to spousal consent, parental consent, and other provisions of Kentucky’s “round 2" anti-abortion law.
Johnson v. Hodges, 372 F.Supp. 1015 (E.D.Ky.1974) Successful gender discrimination challenge to Kentucky law providing that the father only could sign for a teenager’s driving permit.
Whitlow v. Hodges, 539 F.2d 582 (6th Cir.1976) Unsuccessful gender discrimination challenge to Kentucky law requiring that married women must receive driver’s license with their husbands’ name.