Judicial Watch Opposes Effort to Toss Civil Rights Lawsuit Alleging DC Mayor and other DC Officials Violated Judicial Watch’s First Amendment Rights
Tells court Mayor Bowser and Responsible DC officials acted arbitrarily and committed viewpoint discrimination in failing to grant Judicial Watch permission to paint its motto on a District street
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has filed an opposition to a request to dismiss its civil rights lawsuit against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other responsible DC officials who failed to grant Judicial Watch permission to paint “Because No One Is Above the Law!” on a DC street. Judicial Watch told the court in its opposition that Mayor Bowser and the other DC officials acted arbitrarily and engaged in prohibited viewpoint discrimination in failing to grant Judicial Watch’s request.
The lawsuit (Judicial Watch. v. Muriel Bowser, et al. (No. 1:20-cv-01789)) arose after two political messages – “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” – were painted on 16th Street NW, across from the White House.
On June 5, 2020, after days of protests and riots in Washington, DC led by the Black Lives Matter movement, a team of artists, residents, District employees, and demonstrators painted “Black Lives Matter” and the District’s crest, which resembles three stars above an “equals” sign, on 16th Street NW. The following day, demonstrators painted “Defund the Police,” a key demand of the Black Lives Matter movement, alongside the “Black Lives Matter” message. The District government admits that the demonstrators lacked permission to paint “Defund the Police” on the street. To a reasonable viewer, the entire message can be read “Black Lives Matter Equals Defund the Police.”
On June 10, 2020, Judicial Watch asked the Mayor Bowser for permission to paint its motto, “Because No One Is Above the Law!” on a DC street. Mayor Bowser and other District officials largely ignored Judicial Watch’s request. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio eventually told Judicial Watch to pursue a permit through the District Department of Transportation’s online permit application process, but the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Transportation Director Jeffrey Martoonian now admit there is no permit for street painting.
At least two other organizations also formally requested permission to paint their own expressive messages on the District’s streets after “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” were painted on 16th Street. Each organization was treated very differently from the painters of “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police.”
When in late June 2020 a veterans’ advocacy group requested permission to paint “Veterans Lives Matter” on the street in front of the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a block from the “Black Lives Matter Equals Defund the Police” message, the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel told the group they could not do so unless the street was closed. The Mayor’s attorney also told the group that they could apply for a block party or special-event permit to have the street closed on a temporary basis.
When a student organization sought to paint “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on a District street in early August 2020, police reportedly told them they could do so, then told them they could not do so. When they tried to write their message in chalk on a nearby sidewalk, they were arrested.
As Judicial Watch demonstrated in its opposition (Plf’s Opposition to Defs’ Motion to Dismiss (Combined & File Stamped) p. 7):
Whether the District’s streets are considered traditional public fora, designated or limited public fora, or nonpublic fora, the First Amendment forbids arbitrary treatment of requests to engage in expressive conduct and viewpoint discrimination.
Judicial Watch argues that the Mayor and other DC officials did the opposite of what the First Amendment requires: they acted arbitrarily and discriminated against Judicial Watch because of its message.
“Mayor Bowser gave us the runaround rather than equal access to the District’s streets to paint our ‘Because No One is Above the Law!’ message,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch’s First Amendment rights shouldn’t take a back seat to the Mayor’s political promotion of ‘BLM/Defund the Police’.”