Case NameCernuda v. Heavey
Citation: 720 F. Supp. 1544 (S.D. Fla. 1989)
TopicsPolitical Speech

Ramon Cernuda, the director of the Cuban Museum in Miami, regularly sought artwork from artists living in Cuba for display and auction. Because of the Cuban embargo, and the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA), however, much of the art was of questionable legality in the United States. Due to the controversy surrounding the museum, which included the Florida legislature’s revocation of funds, Cernuda attempted to secure licenses to display the art by contacting the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). OFAC never replied to his request, and a few months later officials from the U.S. Customs Service came to search his residence and seize the art.

Cernuda brought suit against the Customs Service, arguing that the art fell within the “informational materials” exception to the TWEA, which he said is premised on the First Amendment and encompasses original works of art. The government argued that the work was aesthetic, not informational, and that the Act does not exempt all First Amendment activity. To resolve the issue, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida looked to the legislative history of the Act. Noting that the legislative history specifically refers to the First Amendment, which views art as a unique form of expression, the court found that the Cuban art was protected by the amendment to the TWEA that covered informational material.

This case is significant for the court’s referral to the legislative history of the law in question and the law’s reference to the First Amendment.

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.