IW Fair acted unconstitutionally

Published 1:24 pm Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Isle of Wight County Fair Committee acted unconstitutionally when it barred a local delegate from the Virginia General Assembly from setting up a booth at the fair in September, Attorney General Mark Herring has ruled.

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

In July, Morris asked to purchase a booth at the Isle of Wight County Fair in order to raise money for a nonprofit organization for abused and neglected children and to disseminate information about state business.

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The fair committee refused his application and stated that no elected official or political organization would be allowed to have a booth at the fair.

Morris then asked the county’s Board of Supervisors to overrule the committee’s decision, stating that he believed the action violated his First Amendment right to free speech. Supervisors declined to overrule the decision. Morris then sought an opinion from the Virginia Attorney General on the constitutionality of the county’s actions.

“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,” Herring stated in his opinion. “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.”

Herring concluded 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, said Isle of Wight would accede to the attorney general’s ruling.

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