Influential civil rights lawyer Dan Canon to speak at IU Southeast

6th April 2017

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—If you read Time, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal, you may have heard of Dan Canon. And if you haven’t heard of him, you’ve probably felt his impact in your daily life. And if you haven’t felt his impact, you probably will soon.

Let’s say you don’t follow constitutional litigation that closely. but listen to Dallas Alice, The Vatican Bank or other regional bands. The thing is, Canon plays guitar and mandolin with them when he’s not practicing law. Or maybe you like to hang out on twitter. Well, he’s there, too. And according to national media, he’s one of a handful of attorneys who are absolutely killing it.

Canon brings his experience, insight, wit and fervent advocacy to IU Southeast on Monday, April 10 in a talk entitled, “The Long Road to Marriage Equality, and Other Civil Rights Issues of Today.”

It’s a topic he knows something about. Canon was lead counsel for four lawfully wedded gay couples in the Supreme Court case that brought marriage equality to Kentucky in 2015. That same year, he represented plaintiffs who were denied marriage licenses in Rowan County, Ky. in a case that dominated national headlines and made Rowan County clerk Kim Davis a household name.

As for the “Other Civil Rights Issues” in the title, Canon has served as counsel in numerous high-profile cases involving wrongful conviction, law enforcement overreach and academic freedom.

“Dan has played a major role in reshaping civil rights in America and American society in general,” said Cliff Staten, professor of political science and international studies, and organizer of the campus event.

Canon’s talk will focus mainly on the long and arduous legal process that led to the final Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. He will discuss the history of major cases of which he has been a part, and dissect the nuts and bolts of the litigation.

Staten believes the talk will be of immense interest primarily to social science majors and students from the civil liberties union, Spectrum, college Democratic and Republican organizations and future lawyers.

“But his [Canon’s] comments are important to all students, faculty, staff and community members because these issues are at the heart of our democratic process,” Staten said.

Canon is a founding principal partner in the firm of Clay Daniel Walton Adams PLC of Louisville. where he focuses on civil rights, employment litigation and appellate advocacy. After his activist college years, Canon assumed he would be going to work in a nonprofit organization. In law school he began to see he could have an even greater impact through legal practice.

“I discovered that there was a lot you can do to change the world little by little when you represent real people against things that are much bigger than they are,” Canon said. “I started doing that and haven’t been able to stop.”

That sense of purpose is useful, but it is also important to understand the long game, and to develop the survival skills needed to endure cases that may last for years and involve a lot of acrimony.

“You’ve got to develop a thick skin, because people can get to you, even if you don’t read their comments,” Canon said. “If you’re involved in controversial issues, they will find you, send you mail, tweet at you, send facebook messages, call your office, and so on. I’ve gotten numerous death threats, both direct and indirect, simply because I represent a person against the government or against a corporation,” Canon said. “That takes some getting used to.”

In highlighting the “long road” to any court decision, Canon’s presentation will enable students to better understand the full range of actions that go into building a case and seeing it through to its successful completion. For Staten, this is important  to maintaining the level of energy and commitment required.

“Students will learn that dramatic changes in American society do not happen overnight,” Staten said. “Change is usually preceded by a long and difficult struggle in our political system.”

Like Staten, Canon believes it is important for students, regardless of their major, to become more informed about the democratic process.

“In a democracy, we are not detached from our government—we are the government,” Canon said. “Institutions are composed of people, so it follows that those institutions are only as good as the people who create them. We have to be conscious participants in our society if we want it to get better.”

Dan Canon will speak on Monday, April 10 at 6 p.m. in University Center 127 on the campus of IU Southeast. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Cliff Staten at

Homepage photo courtesy of Dan Canon.

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