Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Presidential Seal Exception

Motion for Summary Judgment

from No. 85-5174: 1984 USA v. Mary Grace

Appellant Mary Grace argued “that the ‘center zone’ regulation is invalid as applied in this case. Grace notes, in particular, that soon after her conviction a reviewing stand for the Presidential Inauguration was erected on the sidewalk, which obstructed the view of the White House. She further observes that attached to the reviewing stand was a replica of the Presidential Seal, a sign in the same sense as the sign she carried when she was arrested.”

The justices held

08. ... a reviewing stand (which concededly obstructs the view of the White House) is permitted .
09. The attachment of the Seal to the reviewing stand presents a more difficult problem. … At oral argument, counsel for the government conceded that the Seal may be considered a "sign" within the meaning of the regulations. ...
10. ... The purpose of the prohibition on stationary signs in the "center zone" of the White House sidewalk is to prevent obstruction of the public view of the White House. In this case, however, to forbid the Inaugural Committee to place the Seal on the reviewing stand would not achieve that purpose. The reviewing stand was already present on the White House sidewalk.

The principle seems to be that if a sign obstructs an object other than the White House, and that object is permitted to be on the sidewalk, then the sign obstructs the other object and not the White House. In this case, the Presidential Seal does not constitute a violation of the regulations.

The demonstrators are allowed to be on the sidewalk. The signs, such as they were, obstructed a view of the demonstrators, not a view of the White House. According to the Presidential Seal exception, this does not constitute a violation of the regulations.

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