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Congressman Lacy Clay

Representing the 1st District of Missouri

Clay Files Federal Lawsuit to Protect 1st Amendment Rights of Award-winning Student Artist, David Pulphus

February 21, 2017
Press Release
“This is not about a student art competition anymore; it’s about defending the Constitution.”

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) Missouri went to federal court this morning to protect the 1st Amendment rights of a young constituent and to defend the Constitution.

Mr. Clay, Missouri’s senior Democrat in Congress, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Honorable Stephen Ayers, the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, had arbitrarily and unconstitutionally suppressed, and retroactively censored, the award-winning painting entitled “Untitled #1,” created by young St. Louis artist David Pulphus, which earned 1st place honors in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition in Missouri’s 1st congressional district.

In remarks outside of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, Congressman Clay, said in part:

David’s remarkable painting…Untitled #1…had been on peaceful public display for seven months in the Cannon tunnel of the U.S. Capitol complex…along with all the other winning entries from across the nation.

His artwork was initially reviewed, accepted and approved for public display under the very same standards and criteria that apply to all student entries in this prestigious, annual competition.

And yet, after being viewed repeatedly by Members of Congress, congressional staffers, and thousands of visitors without incident or concern;

David’s painting was wrongly disqualified and removed from the public exhibit at the direction of the Architect of the Capitol who shamefully chose to retroactively censor and suppress Mr. Pulphus’ artwork in response to the enormous political pressure he experienced from the Speaker of the House and certain right-wing media outlets.

We contend that action was unfair, arbitrary and unconstitutional.

And beyond that injustice…this intolerable and unprecedented action by the Architect of the Capitol has not only deprived my constituent of his 1st Amendment rights;

It has also sent a chilling message to young Americans that their voices are not respected; their views are not valued; and their freedom of expression is no longer protected in the U.S. Capitol.

So this case is truly about something much bigger than a student’s painting, it is about defending our fundamental 1st Amendment freedoms which are currently under assault in this country.

And that includes the right to artistic expression…even when that creativity is considered objectionable by some, and applauded by others.  That right is strongly protected by Supreme Court precedent.

I am seeking an appropriate remedy through this federal litigation and I’m proud to defend both the fundamental rights of my constituent and the 1st Amendment.

And I would also like to thank my exceptional, pro bono legal team:

Leah Tulin, of Jenner & Block…a former Federal District court law clerk;

James Williams, of Chehardy, Sherman, Williams...a former civil court district judge;

And Kymberly Everson, of the Pacifica Law Group.

As a Member of Congress who reveres the Constitution…I am confident that justice will prevail.”