Case Name: Newton v. LePage
Citation: 700 F.3d 595 (1st Cir. 2012)
Topics: Content / Viewpoint-NeutralityPublic ArtPublic Funding

Governor Paul LePage removed a mural commissioned by his predecessor from a waiting room in the Maine Department of Labor building because he agreed with complaints that it did not portray Maine’s labor history fairly. LePage claimed that the mural, which featured women shipbuilders, striking workers, child laborers, and minimum-wage advocates, did not send a message that aligned with his administration’s pro-business stance. Residents argued that removal of this state-owned artwork was viewpoint-based discrimination, violating their First Amendment right to receive information.

The 1st Circuit held that removing the mural did not violate the First Amendment because it belongs to the government, and “maintaining the appearance of neutrality is a sufficient government justification.” The court also held that the mural’s prominence “would easily lead viewers to understand that the government’s location of the art there was an endorsement of the mural’s message.” The government did not infringe on the residents’ First Amendment free speech rights when it made content-based choices in its own speech. The court also deemed the MDOL waiting room not to be a traditional public form as it has not been opened to the public for demonstrations of political or expressive activity.

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