Back at the beginning of June, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser took it upon herself to rename a public street “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and ordered those three words to be painted in huge yellow letters spanning two blocks of 16th Street NW. This was an obvious sop to the protesters and rioters who have been filling the streets of most major cities for quite some time now, as well as an opportunity to score a few quick headlines in her ongoing PR battle with Donald Trump. But in doing so, she also established a precedent of sorts. Public streets in the nation’s capital that are maintained using taxpayer funds were now apparently legitimate fora for the expression of political opinions.
Taking that signal to heart, Judicial Watch decided to get in on the action themselves. They sent in a request to paint another street in the same area with their own slogan. Strangely, despite multiple attempts to prompt a response from the Mayor, they were unable to obtain permission to do the same thing she had done. Seeing no other recourse, the group is now taking the Mayor to court to ensure their own right to free expression under the First Amendment. Let’s all break out the popcorn and see how this one plays out.
Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a civil rights lawsuit against DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials for First Amendment violations over their refusal to allow Judicial Watch to paint the message “Because No One Is Above the Law!” on a DC street. (Judicial Watch. v. Muriel Bowser, et al. (No. 1:20-cv-01789)).
On June 5, 2020, after days of protests and riots in Washington, DC, led by the Black Lives Matter organization, Mayor Bowser authorized the painting of “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street NW, and later authorized or allowed “Defund the Police” to be painted alongside it.
The group sent a letter requesting permission to paint “Because No One is Above the Law!” in the identical size and coloring of the “Black Lives Matter” painting on another DC street near its headquarters near Capitol Hill. Judicial Watch offered to pay for the cost of the painting and, citing the timely nature of the issue, asked for a response in three days.
Three days seems like a reasonable amount of time for such a simple request. But apparently it wasn’t, at least in the view of the Mayor’s office. In fact, more than three weeks went by and Judicial Watch still hadn’t received either authorization or a denial of their request. The reasons for the suit are clearly spelled out and seem fairly basic. The group is pointing out that the Mayor has obviously determined that the painting of expressive messages on city streets is a method of expression protected under the First Amendment. Bowser has failed to provide a persuasive answer (or any answer, really) as to why the group can’t paint a corresponding message on a different street. She’s also demonstrating obvious government favoritism of one message over another.
This process isn’t going to be confined to the District of Columbia. Never one to miss an opportunity to jump on the liberal bandwagon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio similarly announced this week that huge “Black Lives Matter” statements would be painted on streets in all five boroughs of Gotham. In response, Judicial Watch has already sent a letter to Hizzoner requesting permission to paint their motto on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets. There’s been no word yet as to whether or not the Mayor will comply.
It’s tough to see how either city’s mayor would be able to raise an objection to the group’s motto based on the substance. They obviously feel that “Black Lives Matter” is a valid point of view. With that in mind, how could they oppose the phrase, “Because No One Is Above The Law?” It’s one of the most fundamental principles found in our Constitution.
As I mentioned at the top, both Bowser and de Blasio have painted themselves into this corner, if you’ll pardon the pun. Both of these actions were done via executive fiat rather than the normal legislative process. If either City Council had voted to make a special exception, renaming a street and granting authority for a specific message to be painted on that stretch of pavement, they wouldn’t have opened the door to this sort of activity. But they chose to do it via the phone and the pen, so now all of the asphalt in each city should be open game for nearly any message people want to put there. Of course, the mayors won’t see it that way. Let’s find out if a judge will.