BOSTON — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a judge’s ruling that Maine Gov. Paul LePage was within his rights to remove a large mural depicting scenes from the state’s labor history from an office building that served as home of the Maine Department of Labor.
After taking office, the Republican governor created an uproar last year when he ordered the 11-panel, 7-foot-tall mural removed from a Labor Department waiting room because he believed it presented a one-sided view of history that bowed to organized labor.
Five Mainers, including three artists, filed a lawsuit claiming the removal violated the mural artist’s First Amendment rights.
But the lawsuit was rejected by a federal judge in Maine who agreed with the administration’s claim that the governor is entitled to engage in “government speech.” The ruling was upheld Wednesday by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was unclear if the mural’s supporters planned further appeals.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch suggested that critics of the labor mural’s removal can show their displeasure in other ways, including at the ballot box.
“There are those who disagree with the decision to remove the mural from the [Maine Department of Labor]. Governors and administrations are ultimately accountable to the electorate through the political process, which is the mechanism to test disagreements,” Lynch wrote.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, Jeffrey Neil Young, of the law firm, McTeague Higbee was disappointed with the ruling and urged LePage to display the mural.
“It is a sad day for all of us when our precious First Amendment freedom of speech is eroded and censorship prevails. Plaintiffs are particularly disappointed that after 18 months of litigation, the First Circuit’s decision is premised upon a theory that none of the parties ever had briefed and that was not considered by the district of Maine.
“Nevertheless, we are comforted by the fact that despite this loss in the court of law, the court of public opinion has reached a different conclusion. We call upon the governor to keep his word and to now display the mural in an appropriate state building, such as the Maine State Museum, where people can learn about the men and women who have labored to build our great state,” Young said.
Featuring World War II’s “Rosie the Riveter,” a 1937 shoe strike in Maine and New Deal-era U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the mural commissioned by then-Democratic Gov. John Baldaci was created by artist Judy Taylor after a competition by the Maine Arts Commission.
A full-sized replica has been displayed in Maine, but the location of the original artwork has been a mystery ever since its removal. The LePage administration has declined to divulge its whereabouts.