Federal judge: Ferguson-inspired painting won't be reinstalled in US Capitol

Feb 20, 2017
Originally published on April 18, 2017 5:07 pm

Updated at 2:30 p.m. April 18 with judge rejecting reinstallation efforts — A federal judge rejected efforts Tuesday to reinstall in the U.S. Capitol a painting some lawmakers and police groups found offensive.

David Pulphus, a student artist from Missouri, and Rep. Lacy Clay, his Democratic congressional representative, had sued Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers for removing the painting in January. The painting, which shows what appears to be a pig in a police uniform, divided members of Congress for its depiction of Ferguson.

 
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said the government has used its editorial discretion in the selection and presentation of the art. As a result, it's engaging in "government speech," Bates said, and the plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to display the painting.
 
Leah J. Tulin, a lawyer representing Pulphus and Clay, says they are likely to appeal.
 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Original story from Feb. 20, 2017 —

The fight over a St. Louis student’s painting that has been repeatedly removed or re-hung in the U.S. Capitol is now in federal court.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, filed suit Tuesday in Washington. It challenges officials' decision last month to remove the painting, named "Untitled #1" and done by former Cardinal Ritter student David Pulphus. It was among the winners in an annual congressional art contest.

The painting focuses on the unrest in Ferguson following the 2014 police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. 

In a telephone interview shortly after the suit was filed, Clay told St. Louis Public Radio that he believes he had little choice but to go to court to defend free speech.

“If his rights are allowed to be trampled upon, then all Americans’ rights are at stake," the congressman said. "And I am proud to stand up on behalf of Mr. Pulphus, to defend those rights.”

The lawsuit names the Capitol's official architect, Stephen Ayers. Ayers' office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The painting had been displayed for months in an annex of the Capitol when it caught the attention – and ire – of some conservative news commenters and members of Congress, because it depicts some police as animals. Clay has noted that the painting portrays some other humans as animals as well, and that the real issue is artistic freedom.

Clay contends that Ayers removed the painting in January because of pressure from “certain right-wing media outlets” and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin. 

He also says that the painting “was initially subjected to the same review and approval process as the other 400-plus winning student entries in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition.”

Since the painting was removed from the Capitol, it's had a home in Clay's office. Clay noted that the painting earlier had been removed by two GOP congressmen. Clay then rehung the artwork in its original location, until the architect stepped in.

Clay said two GOP congressmen who removed the painting from its original location have sought to apologize, but he has declined to accept.

“I’ve told them, ‘Don’t apologize to me. I’m a big boy. I can take it," Clay said. "Apologize in writing to my constituent, who you’ve hurt.’ ”

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