White House Policy Illegally Silences Americans Critical of Bush, ACLU Charges (6/28/2007)
Civil Liberties Group Sues Former White House Staffer for Ejecting Taxpayers from Public Events
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a
federal lawsuit against a former high-level White House staffer for
enacting a policy that unlawfully excluded individuals perceived to be
critical of the administration from public events where President Bush
was present. The policy is laid out in an October 2002 "Presidential
Advance Manual" obtained by the ACLU.
"The White House has gone too far in its attempt to make dissent
invisible," said Chris Hansen, a senior ACLU attorney who is lead
counsel in this case. "When taxpayers foot the bill for a public event,
the president does not have the right to use a partisan litmus test to
stack the audience with his political supporters."
The ACLU filed today's lawsuit after obtaining a heavily redacted
version of the Presidential Advance Manual from the Justice Department.
This manual is the Bush administration's guide for planning
presidential events around the country, and it repeatedly instructs
organizers about "the best method for preventing demonstrators,"
"deterring potential protestors from attending events," "designat[ing]
a protest area . . . preferably not in view of the event site or
motorcade route," and the like.
The ACLU said it is clear from the manual that the aim of the White
House policy is to keep people who are critical of the president away
from him and from the news media. According to the manual, "if it is
determined that the media will not see or hear" demonstrators, then
event staff can ignore them. The manual's guidelines are designed for
use at all presidential events, not just fundraisers or political
rallies. However, the ACLU noted that there are stricter constitutional
guidelines for taxpayer-funded events than for privately- or
"When the president attends a public event, the First Amendment does
not allow him to speak or listen only to those who agree with him,"
said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital
Area and co-counsel in the lawsuit. "Public places cannot be 'cleansed'
of all dissent just to make the president look popular on television."
The ACLU is suing Gregory Jenkins, former Director of the White House
Office of Presidential Advance and a Deputy Assistant to President
Bush, for setting the policy in the manual. Jenkins' policies have led
to the removal and, in some cases, arrest of innocent people from
taxpayer-funded events. The lawsuit names as plaintiffs Jeff and Nicole
Rank, who were arrested at a Fourth of July presidential appearance at
the West Virginia State Capitol because they were wearing t-shirts
critical of the president, and Alex Young and Leslie Weise, Denver
residents who were thrown out of a town hall meeting with President
Bush because they had an anti-war bumper sticker on their car.
The Ranks had tickets to attend the July 4, 2004 event, but drew
attention when they removed their outer garments to display t-shirts
bearing the international "no" symbol (a circle with a diagonal line
across it) superimposed over the word "Bush." Although other people in
the audience were allowed to wear pro-Bush paraphernalia, White House
event staff demanded that the Ranks remove or cover their t-shirts.
When the Ranks refused, the White House staffers instructed local
police to arrest the couple, causing them to be removed from the
Capitol grounds in handcuffs, jailed and charged with trespassing. Ms.
Rank was also temporarily suspended from her work with the Federal
Emergency Management Agency. City officials later apologized for their
part in the arrest when they realized they'd been used as political
operatives by the White House.
Similarly, Weise and Young had tickets to attend the March 21, 2005
Denver town hall on Social Security, but they were singled out after a
staffer was informed that Weise had a bumper sticker on her car that
read, "No More Blood for Oil." Weise was stopped upon entering the
event and warned that she had been "ID'd," but was allowed to enter.
However, shortly after reaching their seats, Weise and Young were
forcibly removed from the event by a staffer who later admitted that he
was acting under orders from White House officials.
"Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of the American way of life
and public forums are the place where this matters most. Peaceful
expression, whatever the format, is vital to all of us. We believe this
case is important for protecting the rights of all Americans," Weise
and Young said in a joint statement.
Mr. Rank added, "The free exchange of ideas is essential to
democracy, and when government suppresses one side of that exchange it
puts democracy in peril."
The ACLU lawsuit also cites other occasions throughout the country
in which individuals were excluded from presidential events because of
their political views. For example, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, ticket
holders in line to hear the president speak had to unbutton their
shirts before they could get inside. One individual was wearing a
t-shirt critical of the president, and was ejected by security
officials. In Fargo, North Dakota, several dozen individuals were
placed on a "do not admit list" of those forbidden to attend a
presidential event; most of the individuals on the list belonged to a
liberal organization, and some had written letters to the editor
opposing the president's policies. And in Tucson, Arizona, a student
was barred from a presidential forum on Social Security because he was
wearing a Young Democrats t-shirt.
Today's lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The ACLU previously filed lawsuits in West Virginia and Colorado on
behalf of the Ranks and Weise and Young, respectively. Both cases are
pending in federal district court. Another ACLU lawsuit charging
mistreatment of anti-Bush demonstrators at a presidential appearance is
pending in federal district court in Oregon (Moss v. United States Secret Service).
More information, including a copy of today's complaint and the redacted Presidential Advance Manual, is online at: www.aclu.org/silenced