Sons of Confederate Veterans Lose in Lexington

This just in:

A legal battle to fly the Confederate flag from the street light poles of Lexington died today at the hand of a federal judge.  In a written opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed a lawsuit against the city filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  The lawsuit challenged an ordinance, passed last year amid public furor, that limited the types of flags that can be flown from city-owned light poles.  Lexington City Council’s decision to fly only the city, state and national flags was “eminently reasonable,” Wilson wrote in a 10-page opinion released late today.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans had claimed that the city abused their free speech rights — banning the battle flag because of its controversial nature.  But in granting the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Wilson wrote that the city’s alleged motivations do not override the fact that the ordinance is content-neutral on its face.  By allowing only flags that represent government to be displayed on its light poles, the city essentially banned all private displays, including not just the Sons of Confederate Veterans but also two universities and several fraternities that have previously been allowed access to the poles.  For that reason, the city argued, the ordinance did not shun a particular cause and thus was not subject to First Amendment attack.  Wilson agreed, writing that to allow “a city-owned flag pole to serve as a public forum could suggest that government has placed its imprimatur on private expression.”

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13 comments… add one

  • Rob Baker Jun 14, 2012

    I agree with the judge.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 14, 2012

      Open and shut case and a victory for public decency.

      • Rob Baker Jun 14, 2012

        Yea I agree. I’m not in favor of using public domain for special interest groups.

  • GDBrasher Jun 14, 2012

    Not that this ruling is a surprise, but it is good to see.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 14, 2012

      I agree on both counts. Looking forward to finally meeting you next week in Gettysburg. It should be a blast.

  • Rob Baker Jun 14, 2012

    Judge Samuel Wilson’s entire opinion:

    http://www.vawd.uscourts.gov/OPINIONS/WILSON/712CV00013.PDF

    • Kevin Levin Jun 14, 2012

      Great. Thanks, Rob.

      • Margaret D. Blough Jun 14, 2012

        Kevin-It sounds like the fact that there were other organizations affected by the ban helped the case in favor of the ordinance.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 15, 2012

          That seems to be exactly what this case turned on. Another example of money and resources wasted by the SCV.

  • Pat Young Jun 15, 2012

    Just a couple of notes:

    The two most important issues were whether government owned flag poles are a traditional forum for private expression and whether the ban was content neutral. Voluminous case law says that city flag poles are not a traditional forum for private expression, which is why I can’t demand that my village hall flag pole replace the US flag with an anarchist “A” flag. Not sure why the SCV couldn’t read such a clear line of cases before they filed.

    The court’s examination of the law itself concluded that on its face it was content neutral since it denied access to the poles of all forms of private expression and did not privilege one at the expense of any other.

  • James Harrigan Jun 15, 2012

    Yet more evidence that the days when the Lost Cause controlled local governments in the South are over.

  • Matt McKeon Jun 16, 2012

    The court’s decision was absolutely right, and not because of the SCV. In a lot of First Amendment cases involving public spaces, the point is: anyone can utilize them. In Wakefield, Mass. public library, a meeting hall was hired by a white supremacist group, and there was no way to say no, although it meant a day long circus of police, protest groups and the charming sorts of people drawn to a white supremacist. In the case of this library, and others soon followed suit, the meeting hall use is now restricted, if it interferes with the operations of a public library.

    If the city lightpoles become open space any group can use, then groups a lot more problematic than the SCV will be using them.

    OTOH, its not quite a defeat for the SCV. More publicity! Win!

  • Marc Ferguson Jun 16, 2012

    This ruling was a no-brainer, and very encouraging.

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