CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A federal judge Tuesday denied a group’s lawsuit that would allow an anti-abortion, family values group to display pictures in the Capitol during the upcoming legislative session.
The organization, WyWatch, failed to establish it will be subject to irreparable harm if the injunction isn’t issued, Federal Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled Tuesday.
Under the state’s new 2012 rules, the organization now has the same access to the corridor as any other member of the general public, the judge’s order said.
WyWatch filed a lawsuit against state officials claiming its free speech rights were violated when its display during the 2011 legislative session was removed from the corridor because of complaints.
A week ago, the state Building Commission, which includes the state’s top elected officials, adopted new rules that bar all displays from the underground corridor known as the Herschler Gallery that connects the Capitol Building and the Herschler State Office Building.
The state claimed the new state Building Commission rules made WyWatch’s issue moot. WyWatch countered that it remains a live controversy because the commission could reinstate the old rules after the lawsuit was terminated.
Freudenthal wrote that she does not believe there is “high likelihood” that the commission will return to the 2011 rule.
But she also does not believe the commission met its burden to establish that the issue is moot, the order said.
Jonathan Scruggs, an attorney for the Allied Defense Fund, who handled the WyWatch case, could not be reached for comment late Tuesday, when Freudenthal’s order was released.
Becky Vandeberghe, the chairman of WyWatch, declined to comment Tuesday evening and referred inquiries to Scruggs.
Also unavailable for comment were representatives of the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which filed an amicus brief in support of WyWatch’s petition.
“While the ACLU doesn’t agree with WyWatch’s anti-choice message, we firmly support their right to say it,” Jennifer Horvach, staff attorney for the Wyoming ACLU said in a media release issued Monday morning. “The government cannot suppress the right to free speech, even on government property, just because someone doesn’t like what the organization has to say or how they say it.”
The new state rule allows nonprofit groups to set up their exhibits in common public space on the first and second floors of the Herschler State
The commission rationale for the new rule, officials said, was to protect the main purpose of the Herschler Gallery for foot traffic between the two buildings.
The nonprofit organizations liked the tunnel location because it provided them access to legislators on their way to and from the underground parking garage.
Last year, after receiving authorization from Richard Cathcart, the executive secretary of the state Building Commission, WyWatch set up a booth in the tunnel and two posters, including one of a fetus with a biblical phrase, the ACLU brief said. After receiving a number of calls complaining about the posters, Cathcart ordered the display removed.
The state Building Commission includes Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Joe Meyer and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.