Maine Governor Paul LePage lawfully removed a mural depicting the state’s labor history from the Maine Department of Labor office in Augusta in March 2011, a federal judge ruled today.
In dismissing a lawsuit seeking to have the mural returned, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock Jr. ruled that LePage’s decision was protected “government speech.”
“Having concluded that the state of Maine engaged in government speech when it commissioned and displayed the labor mural,” Woodcock wrote, “it follows that Governor LePage also engaged in government speech when he removed the mural. The governor’s message — whether verbal or in the form of the expressive act of removal — is government speech.”
“Despite the inspiration the plaintiffs have drawn from the mural, the court is doubtful that its removal is a sufficient ‘injury in fact’ to a member of the public to force the state to continue to display it — any more than a member of the public who enjoys a particular exhibit on display at the Maine Museum of Art would have standing to force the museum to make it permanent.”
LePage has said he ordered the mural removed because he founded it “one-sided,” namely too pro workers. His decisions sparked protests in Maine, and this lawsuit. Plaintiffs John Newton, Donald Berry, Jonathan Beal, Joan Braun, Natasha Mayers and Robert Shetterly are considering whether they might appeal the judge’s decision or file a lawsuit in state court.