Lawyers in Denver are arguing that President Bush has the right to remove from an audience people who disagree with him.
The case involves two people ejected from a taxpayer-funded Bush speech two years ago.
Leslie Weise and Alex Young were removed from a Bush address on Social Security after a staffer for Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., pointed them out as suspicious because they had arrived in a car with an anti-war bumper sticker.
Weise and Young sued, arguing that the ouster violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
Attorneys for Michael Casper and Jay Klinkerman, who were involved in removing them, have filed an appeals brief saying the ouster was legal.
“The president’s right to control his own message includes the right to exclude people expressing discordant viewpoints from the audience,” says the brief, filed by attorneys Sean Gallagher, Dugan Bliss and others representing Casper and Klinkerman.
The White House declined comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Three White House staffers have also been sued in the case for ordering the ouster.
Gallagher said the White House was not involved in developing the argument.
The appeal centers on “whose speech is at issue — the president’s or the plaintiffs’?” the brief says.
Weise responded, “My read of the Constitution does not give the president free speech rights greater than the citizens he serves.”
Martha Tierney, attorney for Weise and Young, described the argument as “pretty amazing.” She said it claims her clients’ mere attendance forced the government to adopt their views.
Casper’s attorneys cited a case, Sistrunk vs. City of Strongsville, involving the first President George Bush. There, an appeals court supported the removal of a person with a Bill Clinton button from an event organized by the Republican Party.
The speech organizers were trying to “convey a pro-Bush message to the media by use of pro-Bush speakers and largely pro-Bush attendees,” they quote the case. They wanted to ‘send the media a message’ that Bush would win; to convey the message that ‘Strongsville Trusts George Bush.’ ”
But Tierney said that the cited case doesn’t apply because it was a Republican Party event, “and a private party can control speech.” The Denver speech was open to the public and paid for by taxpayers, she said.
If the argument that the government can exclude people based on their views is supported by the appeals court, “it guts the First Amendment,” Tierney said.
Alan Chen, a University of Denver law professor, agreed.
“The whole purpose is to protect dissenters from the government,” he said. “That’s an inherent element of the democratic process.”
(Reach Ann Imse at imsea(at)rockymountainnews.com)