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Attorney General Schneider Announces Mural Decision
March 23, 2012
AUGUSTA – Attorney General William J. Schneider today announced that the United States District Court rejected claims that attempted to control the speech of government officials.
The opening sentence of Judge John A. Woodcock’s 91 page decision encapsulates the issue: “The resolution of the Governor’s decision to remove a state-owned labor mural from the anteroom of the Maine Department of Labor rests not in a court of law but in the court of public opinion.”
In this case, the prior administration expended $60,000 on a mural depicting select scenes from the history of labor in Maine, which was displayed in a small waiting room at the Department of Labor. The mural was removed by the current administration, prompting a group of individuals to file suit in federal court seeking to compel the return of the mural.
In declining to examine the motivation behind government speech, the Court concludes that: “To hold a jury trial and subject elected officials to cross-examination whenever a dissident group contends that a governmental action, which affects a governmental message, is politically motivated would risk transforming the courts into stages for political theatre.”
Attorney General William J. Schneider applauded the decision, commenting: “One of the cornerstones of American democracy is free expression – by individuals and the government. As citizens, we want our government officials to speak and express their views. Any effort by a small group to attempt to control government’s speech by bringing elected officials to trial should be viewed as a threat to our democratic principles. I am pleased that the Court agreed that just as individuals are free to speak, so too is the government.”