CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-FIRST AMENDMENT-SPEECH-FLAG ON GOVERNMENT FLAGPOLE

May 16th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Shurtleff v. City of Boston, 2022 U.S. LEXIS 2327 (S. Ct. May 2, 2022) (Breyer, J.)  When the government encourages diverse expression—say, by creating a forum for debate—the First Amendment prevents it from discriminating against speakers based on their viewpoint. See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 828- 830, 115 S. Ct. 2510, 132 L. Ed. 2d 700 (1995). But when the government speaks for itself, the First Amendment does not demand airtime for all views. After all, the government must be able to “promote a program” or “espouse a policy” in order to function. Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., 576 U. S. 200, 208, 135 S. Ct. 2239, 192 L. Ed. 2d 274 (2015). The line between a forum for private expression and the government’s own speech is important, but not always clear. This case concerns a flagpole outside Boston City Hall. For years, Boston has allowed private groups to request use of the flagpole to raise flags of their choosing. As part of this program, Boston approved hundreds of requests to raise dozens of different flags. The city did not deny a single request to raise a flag until, in 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the director of a group called Camp Constitution, asked to fly a Christian flag. Boston refused. At that time, Boston admits, it had no written policy limiting use of the flagpole based on the content of a flag. The parties dispute whether, on these facts, Boston reserved the pole to fly flags that communicate governmental messages, or instead opened the flagpole for citizens to express their own views. If the former, Boston is free to choose the flags it flies without the constraints of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. If the latter, the Free Speech Clause prevents Boston from refusing a flag based on its viewpoint. We conclude that, on balance, Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups’ flags a form of government speech. That means, in turn, that Boston’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution raise their flag based on its religious viewpoint “abridg[ed]” their “freedom of speech.” U. S. Const., Amdt. I.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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