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.
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“I cannot see how reasonable public officials, or any staff or volunteers under their direction, could have viewed the bumper sticker as a permissible reason for depriving Weise and Young of access to the event,” wrote Justice Ginsburg.Skip to next paragraph
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She added that she could see “only one arguable reason for deferring the question this case presents.” The justice noted that the two people being sued were volunteers who had acted on instructions from White House officials at the event. The federal Volunteer Protection Act might have shielded the volunteers from the lawsuit. But Ginsburg said the White House officials may not enjoy similar protection.
“Federal officials themselves … gain no shelter from that Act,” she wrote. “Suits against the officials responsible for Weise’s and Young’s ouster remain pending and may offer this Court an opportunity to take up the issue avoided today.”
In a 1996 case, the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of campaign workers who refused to allow a person wearing a Bill Clinton button to attend a Bush-Quayle campaign rally. The campaign committee maintained a policy barring rally participants from carrying signs or wearing buttons critical of then-President George H. W. Bush.
The Clinton supporter was allowed to attend once she surrendered the Bill Clinton button.
In the case involving the 2005 incident, the Tenth Circuit majority said the Bush speech was similar in that the president has a First Amendment right to control the message at his speech.
Holloway, the dissenting judge, disagreed. He said the Bush-Quayle event in the 1996 case was a private rally held by a private entity, the Bush-Quayle election committee. Under those circumstances the committee was entitled to attempt to control the rally’s message by excluding signs and buttons of opposing candidates.
“Our case deals with a public event, and plaintiffs did not attempt to express any opinion in the course of their attendance,” he wrote.
The Bush aides named in the lawsuit were both local volunteers at the Denver event. They said in their briefs that they are entitled to qualified immunity from such lawsuits because they were just following the instructions of White House officials who are themselves protected by qualified immunity.
Lawyers for both men also argue that the Bush event in Denver was a private event because it took place in a privately-owned museum.
“The museum where the president gave his speech was private property, and because tickets were required for admission, the event was a limited private forum,” wrote Brett Lilly, a lawyer in Wheat Ridge, Colo. Under those circumstances, he said, the president is under no obligation to share the stage with others.
Lawyers for Weise and Young disagree with this analysis. “When the government decides to hold an event paid for by taxpayers and open to the public, and when the government itself makes all the decisions about the event, First Amendment rights do not turn on whether the event occurred at a municipal auditorium or a private museum,” wrote Christopher Hansen, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.