AG: IW fair group’s actions unconstitutional

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Virginia General Attorney Mark Herring has declared as unconstitutional the actions of the Isle of Wight County Fair Committee in regard to its banning an area delegate from setting up a booth at the fair this past September.

Del. Rick Morris (R-64) made the announcement in a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon.

In July, Morris requested to purchase a booth at the Isle of Wight County Fair so that he may raise money for a non-profit organization for abused and neglected children and disseminate information about state business. The Isle of Wight Fair Committee refused his application and stated that no elected official or political organization will be allowed to have a booth at the fair.

Morris sent a letter to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors stating that he believes their actions violate his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and asked them to reconsider the fair committee’s decision.

In a letter on July 29, Byron “Buzz” Bailey, the chairman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, responded, “It is the Fair Committee’s position, based upon legal advice, that your assertion that the prohibition of political booths at the County Fair is a violation of your constitutional right to free speech is unfounded.”

Morris requested an opinion from the Virginia Attorney General on the constitutionality of the county’s actions. In the Attorney General’s opinion he stated, “Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and political speech is at the core of the protections offered by the First Amendment.”

Additionally, the Attorney General’s opinion stated, “When government regulation of speech is based on the content of speech, the regulations will be strictly scrutinized and the government bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of its actions and it must demonstrate that the regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”

The Attorney General concluded that the county’s actions were not constitutionally permissible.

“It’s unfortunate that county officials can so easily disregard basic constitutional rights,” Morris stated. “As an elected official of the General Assembly, I believe it’s my duty to protect individual liberties and freedoms and keep government from infringing on our constitutional rights.”

Don Robertson, spokesman for the county, pointed out that what the AG attributed to the County was actually the work of the Fair Committee.

“If there’s something that needs to be amended or adjusted, we’ll do so and move forward,” Robertson said.