SIGNIFICANCE: CLAUDIO V. UNITED STATES
Claudio was approved by the General Services Administration (GSA) to display his painting “Sex, Laws, and Coathangers” in the main entrance lobby of a federal building/post office/ courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina. The painting bore a nude female, a three-dimensional representation of a human fetus, and a coathanger that appears to be dripping blood. Upon the unveiling of the painting in the lobby, Grant, the issuer of the license to display the painting, withdrew Claudio’s display license on the basis that the work, though art, was also a political expression that was not permitted on federal property.
The Court determined that control over access to a nonpublic forum could be based on subject matter so long as the distinctions drawn were reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and were viewpoint neutral. The Court first decided that the federal building was a nonpublic forum because it had not been opened for indiscriminate expressive activity by the general public. The Court found that Grant had acted reasonably and that his actions were viewpoint neutral since government officials could not determine whether the painting represented a position for or against abortion. The Court further found that Grant’s issue of the license to display the painting and later revocation were discretionary acts, meaning that he is not subject to lawsuits for these acts. Thus, the Court ruled against Claudio and permitted the removal of his painting.
Second action: 836 F.Supp 1230 (E.D.N.C. 1993)
The Court essentially made the same findings: It found that lobby of the building is a nonpublic forum. The revocation of Claudio’s license was constitutional because it was reasonable, not motivated by a desire to suppress viewpoint, and was effected in the government’s role to maintain the dignity and aestethic quality of a building dedicated to the administration of justice and public service. Thus, the court ruled that the government may limit the exercise of First Amendment rights on public property.