A simmering debate over First Amendment rights at the annual Memorial Day air show could soon be put to rest.
Representatives for activists Bill Wickersham and Maureen Doyle, air show organizers Salute to Veterans Corp., and the city of Columbia plan to hold a conference call today with Judge Nanette Laughrey to determine whether distributing leaflets will be allowed at future shows, said attorney Marilyn Teitelbaum. She represents Wickersham and Doyle, who along with the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city and air show organizers earlier this year for the right to demonstrate with leaflets and petitions at the city-owned Columbia Regional Airport, where the air show is held.
“We basically won the case at this point,” Teitelbaum said. “Now the judge has to make a decision on the permanent injunction.”
Teitelbaum said Laughery could make her ruling based on briefs that have already been submitted or could call for a trial on Friday.
Laughery issued a preliminary injunction in May, just days before this year’s show, that allowed some, but not all, forms of protest. She wrote that handing out leaflets and wearing clothes, hats and buttons expressing views at odds with air show organizers would be allowed. Circulating petitions, however, would be off-limits because they must be read before signing.
That decision covered only this year’s event.
In a brief filed July 18 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Wickersham and Doyle asked the court to make that ruling permanent.
Dale Doerhoff, attorney for Salute to Veterans Corp., said his client has a First Amendment right to conduct the event without disruption from protesters.
“They don’t want to have a debate out there,” he said.
In a brief submitted last week, Doerhoff asked the court to lift the preliminary injunction and said demonstrators should be confined to areas off the tarmac and outside airport gates.
A separate brief, submitted on behalf of the city by St. Louis attorney Robert Krehbiel, asked the court to consider prohibiting leafletting at the show. But if the judge were not inclined to do so, she should make the terms of the preliminary injunction permanent.
If Laughery makes the preliminary injunction permanent, the case could move on to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Doerhoff said it was too early to comment on the possibility of appeal.
The lawsuit came after Wickersham, an Army veteran and adjunct professor of peace studies at MU, was arrested for collecting signatures and refusing to leave the 2004 air show. At the same show, Doyle was asked to leave after handing out fliers containing quotes on peace.
Salute to Veterans Corp. originally argued that its contract with the city gave organizers the power to exclude people from the public event. The city entered that contract despite an ordinance — which has since been repealed — prohibiting the city from relinquishing control of the airport.