Lawyers argue against free speech

White House officials can exclude dissenters from taxpayer-funded appearances by President Bush without violating the protesters’ rights, according to lawyers for volunteers who helped eject three people from a hall where Bush was to speak.

Attorneys for Michael Casper and Jay Bob Klinkerman said the government has the same rights as a private corporation when its officials speak.

“The president may constitutionally make viewpoint-based exclusionary determinations in conveying his own message,” the attorneys said in a filing last week. “So in following the instructions of the White House and carrying out its viewpoint-based exclusions, Casper and Klinkerman did not violate any of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

Plaintiffs Leslie Weise and Alex Young were among the three told to leave just before Bush was to talk about his plans for Social Security at the March 21, 2005, event in Denver.

Weise and Young argue they were ejected for their political views. They had arrived in a car bearing a “No blood for oil” bumper sticker. They were also wearing T-shirts saying “Stop the lies” under their clothes but did not show them.

They have said they had no plans to disrupt the event, but Young hoped to ask Bush a question if given the opportunity.

The defense filing points to a ruling by another federal appeals court in a 1992 case in which an Ohio woman displaying a pro-Bill Clinton button was barred from a campaign rally for the first President Bush. The appeals court said rally organizers had a right to control their message, and the Supreme Court later refused to revive the lawsuit.

Martha Tierney, an attorney for the Colorado plaintiffs, said Monday the Ohio case does not apply to her clients’ case because the event at the center of the 1992 case was funded by a private organization, the Strongsville, Ohio, Republican Party.

“A private organization is entitled to limit the kinds of speech that the public can have if it comes to attend its event,” Tierney said. “But the government is under a different standard and can’t limit speech just based on viewpoint at a public, taxpayer-funded event.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the latest motion was filed, is weighing the volunteers’ argument that they are protected from lawsuits by governmental immunity. A lower court rejected that argument.

Last month, Weise and Young filed a separate lawsuit against three White House officials, accusing them of creating an unconstitutional policy to limit dissent at the president’s appearances.

White House officials do not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Blair Jones said Monday.

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