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Supreme Court declines Bush bumper sticker case

Two Colorado residents sued when they were barred from a 2005 George W. Bush speech because they arrived in a car with an antiwar bumper sticker. The Supreme Court rejected their case Tuesday.

By Staff writer / October 12, 2010

Two Colorado residents were kept out of a 2005 George W. Bush speech for which they had tickets because they arrived in a car sporting a bumper sticker that read: "No More Blood For Oil." The Supreme Court rejected their case Tuesday.

Newscom/File

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Washington

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear the appeal of two Colorado residents who were excluded from a speech by President Bush in 2005 because White House aides saw them arrive in a car with a bumper sticker that proclaimed: “No More Blood For Oil.”

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Although they had earlier obtained tickets to the event, passed through a security checkpoint, and said they had no intention of being disruptive, White House officials and volunteers ordered them removed from the venue by two uniformed police officers. The officials were acting under a Bush administration policy of barring from then-President Bush’s public appearances anyone who might disagree with him.

The speech was held at a privately owned museum in Denver but was open to members of the public who obtained tickets beforehand. As an official presidential speech, it was paid for with government funds.

The two ejected individuals, Leslie Weise and Alex Young, never said or did anything disruptive and were ejected before the speech began. They later filed a lawsuit claiming Bush aides violated their First Amendment right to display a bumper sticker on a car and not face punishment from government officials who object to the message.

A federal judge threw the lawsuit out. A federal appeals court panel agreed. The panel, in a 2-1 decision, said there was no “clearly established” constitutional right not to be excluded from a speech by the president because of a bumper sticker on the car in which they arrived.

"No specific authority instructs this court (let alone a reasonable public official) how to treat the ejection of a silent attendee from an official speech based on the attendee’s protected expression outside the speech area,” wrote Judge Paul Kelly of the Tenth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a dissent, Judge William Holloway said the ejection caused “extreme embarrassment and humiliation” to the two plaintiffs solely because they had arrived at the speech in a car with a bumper sticker that government officials found concerning.

“It is simply astounding that any member of the executive branch could have believed that our Constitution justified this egregious violation of plaintiff’s rights,” Judge Holloway wrote.

Holloway quoted the Supreme Court’s 1964 landmark First Amendment decision, New York Times v. Sullivan: “The right of an American citizen to criticize public officials and policies and to advocate peacefully ideas for change is the central meaning of the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court did not explain why the justices declined to hear the case.

In a dissent, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have agreed to hear the appeal.

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