WASHINGTON — A D.C.-based conservative group is suing Mayor Muriel Bowser and other District leaders over controversy surrounding a Black Lives Matter mural and demanding the city allow it to paint its own political message.
Judicial Watch is claiming the city is violating its First Amendment rights after allegedly allowing protesters to paint "Defund the Police" beside the Black Lives Matter mural, but blocking it from painting a political message of its own.
The group sent a letter to Bowser and the attorney general requesting permission to paint its message on a city street.
The nonprofit organization wants to paint its motto which is "Because no one is above the law." The group was willing to paint the slogan on a separate city street outside of its D.C. headquarters.
The letter claimed Judicial Watch’s message is relevant because it applies equally to law enforcement, public officials, as well as to protesters, looters and rioters.
According to the lawsuit, the interim deputy mayor for planning and economic development responded to a separate inquiry saying Judicial Watch’s request would likely not be approved because the painting would interfere with traffic markings for drivers.
In his response, the deputy mayor added Black Lives Matter Plaza was closed to traffic.
The group asked for road closures to paint its message, but claimed the city never accommodated the request.
The lawsuit alleges that D.C. officials denied timely, equal access to Judicial Watch for it to paint its own expressive message on the streets.
The document also claims the District violated federal civil rights law.
"I don't think this lawsuit is likely to go anywhere," said Paul Schiff Berman, a law professor at The George Washington University. "The Judicial Watch is really confusing two different issues. One is if you create a true public forum, like, let's say a public park, and you let lots of people protest there then, of course, the government can't favor some sorts of speech over other sorts of speech. But this is not a public park. This is the government itself, choosing to speak. The government painted the Black Lives Matter painting on the street, and when the government is speaking, they're not required to allow space for alternative viewpoints."
Berman told WUSA9 the lawsuit would depend on if the city, in fact, created a true public forum.
“If the government has dedicated a spot where lots of people can paint their points of view and then they discriminate among points of view, that is a potential First Amendment issue. If the statement that's being painted is adopted by the government and seen as a D.C. government statement, then it would be the government speaking. Then, it would not be a public forum," he added.
Judicial Watch argues that because the city did not remove the "Defund the police" statement by protesters it has, in fact, created a public forum.
However, Berman said if the city has adopted the statement as its own, this lawsuit will not likely go far.
WUSA9 reached out to Judicial Watch for an interview, but no one returned our phone calls or emails.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city will not comment on pending litigation.