Jenner & Block Partner Leah J. Tulin is working on a pro bono basis in the First Amendment case of a former high school student whose award-winning painting was removed from public display in the US Capitol after it became the subject of a negative media campaign. Ms. Tulin is representing the artist, David Pulphus, and Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, who each year sponsors a student artist from his district as part of the annual Congressional Art Competition. For the 2016 competition, Mr. Clay sponsored a painting by Mr. Pulphus called “Untitled #1,” which depicts a scene from Ferguson, MO, with police officers and protestors represented as animals. After being on public display in the Cannon Tunnel in the US Capitol Complex for nearly seven months, the Architect of the Capitol ordered the painting removed in response to pressure from a number of conservative media outlets and a group of lawmakers.
In a lawsuit filed in federal district court on February 21, 2017, Ms. Tulin and the team allege that the painting’s removal violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Mr. Pulphus and Mr. Clay. It is a basic and fundamental principle that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting or prohibiting speech just because it disagrees with a speaker’s viewpoint, according to the complaint. The suit names the Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers as the defendant.