1st Circuit rejects attempt to restore Maine labor mural

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BOSTON — A federal appeals court yesterday 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 said 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 dismissed by a federal judge in Maine who agreed with the administration’s claim that the governor was entitled to engage in “government speech.” The ruling was upheld yesterday by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In yesterday’s ruling in Newton v. LePage, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch suggested that critics of the labor mural’s removal could 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.

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.

Jeff Young, an attorney for the five residents challenging the governor’s decision to remove the mural, said after yesterday’s ruling that the governor should stand by his pledge to display the mural elsewhere.

The attorney said he’d consider dropping future appeals if the state would display the mural at the Maine State Museum. There was no word from the governor’s office.

Young said he could appeal the decision in federal court or file new action in state court.

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