Federal Judge Deciding Whether to Dismiss Labor Mural Lawsuit
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a mural might be worth even more. But when it comes to the Labor Department mural that Governor LePage had removed last March, it’s unclear who’s doing the talking. In April, a group of five individuals filed a lawsuit claiming the governor’s decision to take the mural down was a violation of free speech.On Thursday, a federal judge in Bangor heard from both sides on the state’s motion to dismiss that lawsuit.”Under our system of law, there are certain issues called political questions that are better left to the political back and forth instead of having a court decide them,” said Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern.The state argues the mural was commissioned and paid for by the government and therefore the decision to remove it falls under “government speech.”Stern said, “The state originated the theme, picked the artist, chose her proposal and reviewed the mural while it was being formed and ultimately paid $60,000 for it.”The LePage administration says it took the mural down because it wanted to present a more balanced look at business and labor. But the plaintiffs say the mural’s message wasn’t political.”We see it as censorship by the state based on the political viewpoint that they attribute to the mural. In fact, the mural does not have a political point of view, it’s pro-worker but that doesn’t make it Republican or Democrat,” said John Beal, the attorney representing the five individuals who filed the lawsuit.The judge had a lot of questions for both sides. He expressed concern that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs might make it difficult for state government to operate efficiently whenever it wants to make a change.”I hope that our responses made it clear to him that this is essentially a one time event in the history of the state of Maine,” said Beal.The lawsuit includes both federal and state claims. If the federal suit is dismissed, the state claims will be addressed in state court.The judge gave no timeline for when he might make a decision.