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D.C. Can Forbid Chalk Outside White House

(CN) - A District of Columbia law that prohibits protesters from writing with chalk on the street in front of the White House is not an unconstitutional affront to free speech, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the ruling of a federal judge who said district police acting properly in preventing a planned 2009 anti-abortion "sidewalk chalk" demonstration that was to be led by the Rev. Patrick Mahoney on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mahoney and his supporters wanted to protest President Barack Obama's support for abortion rights.

The police gave prior approval for the protest that was to coincide with the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, but notified Mahoney and his fellow protesters that they would violate a property-defacement law in the District if they wrote with chalk in the street.

Mahoney filed suit, arguing the law violated the First Amendment, but the District Court, and later, the appellate panel, disagreed on the grounds that the regulation is content-neutral. The judges also found that the city has a substantial interest in controlling the appearance of the street in front of the White House, and that the law left Mahoney with alternative means of communicating his views, including signs and banners.

Writing for the majority, Judge Janice Rogers Brown noted the "special nature" of the street in front of the White House, and said this nature "serves to heighten aesthetic concerns" of the government.

"[T]he District's interest in controlling the esthetic appearance of the street in front of the White House is substantial," Brown wrote.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote that "No one has a First Amendment right to deface government property."

"No one has a First Amendment right, for example, to spray-paint the Washington Monument or smash the windows of a police car," Kavanaugh added.

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