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Congressman Lacy Clay

Representing the 1st District of Missouri

Constitutional Scholars Laurence Tribe and Erwin Chemerinsky Join Rep. Clay’s Pro Bono Legal Team to Protect First Amendment Rights of Award-winning Student Artist

March 9, 2017
Press Release
Legal Scholars Ready to Defend Freedom of Artistic Expression in Federal Court

WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of filing a federal lawsuit in defense of the First Amendment rights of his young constituent, St. Louis artist David Pulphus, Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) Missouri announced today that Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California - Irvine School of Law, two of America’s most honored constitutional law scholars, have joined his pro bono legal team.

“Professor Laurence Tribe and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky are two of our nations’ preeminent advocates in defense of the First Amendment,” said the Congressman. “I am deeply honored and exceedingly grateful to both of them for investing their energy and constitutional expertise to advance this important case. Their voices will magnify the urgent efforts of my exceptional pro bono legal team who are striving to restore David Pulphus’ First Amendment right which was arbitrarily and unconstitutionally suppressed by the Architect of the Capitol.  After a chilling and unconstitutional decree from the Architect of the Capitol that freedom of expression is no longer protected in the U.S. Capitol, I was compelled to seek justice for David Pulphus and legal experts are beginning to take notice of the dangerous precedent set forth,” said Clay.

Professor Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University said, “A teen-aged artist from Missouri, David Pulphus, won the right to display a painting portraying a protest against social injustice in the wake of the Ferguson tragedy. That artwork, displayed in the Capitol Building’s Cannon Tunnel for over half a year without incident, was David’s winning entry in the annual Congressional Art Competition. It met all the competition’s guidelines and was selected to represent Congressman Clay’s district. Yet, government officials repeatedly removed it at the insistence of House leadership objecting to the painting’s supposedly ‘reprehensible’ and ‘disgusting’ political content – despite Congressman Clay’s repeated attempts to rehang it. These flagrant and repeated acts of unauthorized government censorship threaten the very fabric of an open society committed to freedom of expression under the First Amendment. I couldn’t stand by and let that happen, so I agreed to help end the constitutional violation on a pro bono basis.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, at the University of California - Irvine School of Law added, “One of the most basic principles of the First Amendment is that the government, when it provides a forum for speech, cannot exclude expression based on the viewpoint expressed.   Congress here held a competition and promised to display the artwork.  David Pulphus’ winning work was removed solely because some congressional leaders don’t like his perceived views. That is inconsistent with the core of the First Amendment:  the government cannot censor speech just because it does not like the message.”

Professors Tribe and Chemerinsky join the already distinguished pro bono legal team in Pulpus v. Ayers which includes Attorneys Leah Tulin of Jenner & Block; James Williams of Chehardy, Sherman, Williams; and Kymberly Evanson, of the Pacifica Law Group.

The initial hearing in Pulphus v. Ayers is scheduled to be heard in Federal District Court in Washington, DC on March 15, 2017