After the city of Washington D.C. decided to paint “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow lettering on 16th Street, the conservative watchdogs over at Judicial Watch thought they detected a problem. When the city did nothing to discourage protesters from adding their own message – “Defund the Police” – to the original painting, they knew that things were not kosher.
Nonetheless, they decided to test the city’s tolerance for diverse viewpoints with an ingenious plan: Ask D.C. officials for permission to paint their own motto, “Because No One is Above the Law,” on the city streets.
We’ll let you guess how that went.
Sensing an illegal, unconstitutional preference for only certain kinds of speech, Judicial Watch went to court on Wednesday to get some clarification on what could turn out to be an important First Amendment issue. Does the city of Washington have the right to throw their endorsement behind only certain messages, or do they have to allow equal access to all points of view?
“We have been patient. We also have been flexible. We have stated our willingness to paint our motto at a different location if street closure is necessary and the city is unwilling to close our chosen location,” the group said in court. “All we ask is that we be afforded the same opportunity to paint our message on a DC street that has been afforded the painters on 16th Street.”
After requesting that the city allow them the same privileges that were granted to the “defund the police” painters, they were told that there weren’t really any permits that covered what they were requesting.
“We would gladly follow the rules if there were any,” Judicial Watch said in court. “We are left with the firm conviction that the process — to the extent there is one — is arbitrary and favors only one viewpoint, that which is currently being expressed on 16th Street.”
The group isn’t waiting around idly to see how the courts rule. On June 30, after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio authorized the painting of “Black Lives Matter” on the streets in all five boroughs of the city, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton quickly fired off a letter demanding equal treatment.
“Because City streets are now being used as public fora for expressive activity, we would like to have our motto painted along a street, preferably Fifth Avenue between 81st and 83rd Streets,” Fitton wrote. “The lettering would be identical in size and color to the lettering used to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the six above-referenced locations. We would pay the cost of the painting, but we would likely need the assistance of the City to aid in traffic diversion and parking restrictions while the painting is completed. Of course, the painting could be completed in the same manner as the other locations.”
It will be interesting to see how these efforts to hold Democrats accountable for their messaging turns out. It could be that in their zeal to pander to minority interest groups, Washington D.C. and New York City accidentally opened floodgates they didn’t know were there.