Denver federal appeals court hears case of two ejected from Bush gathering
November 18, 2009
DENVER (AP) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments that two people who were booted from a Denver public appearance by then-President George W. Bush shouldn’t have been excluded from the event because of their views expressed on a bumper sticker.
Leslie Weise and Alex Young claim their First Amendment rights were violated when they were ejected from the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum on March 21, 2005, just before Bush was to appear at a taxpayer-funded town hall to tout his plan to privatize Social Security.
A judge dismissed their lawsuit last year, saying Bush had the right to ensure only his message was conveyed at his own speech. The lawsuit names two volunteers who asked Weise and Young to leave and two members of Bush’s White House Advance team that oversaw the volunteers.
Weise and Young say a Secret Service agent told them they were picked for removal because they arrived at the museum in a car with a bumper sticker reading, “No More Blood For Oil,” which was a reference to the Iraq war.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chris Hansen, who represents the two, argued that allowing the earlier ruling to stand would mean that government officials could screen everyone and exclude people from public meetings, including school boards, city council meetings, even Congress.
“It means they (government officials) will never have to hear from people who disagree with them,” Hansen argued.
Attorneys for volunteers Michael Casper and Jay Bob Klinkerman, who asked Weise and Young to leave the event, argued the law isn’t clear. Casper’s attorney, Sean Gallagher, pointed to a Missouri case in which a woman wearing an pro-Bill Clinton button wasn’t allowed into a rally for then-President George H. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle until she removed the button.
Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, in questioning Gallagher, pointed to decades of case law and said the principle that the government can’t discriminate based on viewpoint is so ingrained that even “school kids know that.”
“Just because ‘Jane’ doesn’t agree with the viewpoint of the teacher, you got to let ‘Jane’ into the classroom,” Tacha said. “Wouldn’t everybody know that?”
Gallagher shot back: “Officials must understand that what they are doing violates the law.”
He added that under the Missouri case, Tacha’s theoretical school girl could be removed from the classroom under certain contexts.
Brett Lilly, Klinkerman’s attorney, argued that the event took place at a private museum, which is different from a public place such as a park or a sidewalk.
Tacha, the judge, pointed out that the event “wasn’t very private. Anybody could have gotten a ticket.”
Young, who attended the Wednesday hearing with Weise, said, “It’s great to have the arguments expressed in court. It’s been many years waiting.”
“Our clients did their best and acted in good faith,” Gallagher said outside of court. “And they shouldn’t be liable.”
The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not indicate when they might rule.