COLUMBIA — The veterans group that organizes Memorial Day air shows in Columbia reached the end of the road Tuesday on its quest to prevent the public from protesting during the event.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Salute to Veterans Corp.’s appeal of a ruling that protected the rights of protesters to hand out leaflets and carry signs during the annual air show. The not-for-profit group uses the tarmac at the Columbia Regional Airport for the event, and the city provides a police presence. The police asked Bill Wickersham and Maureen Doyle to leave the show in 2004 for protesting and distributing anti-war leaflets and a green-energy petition. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Salute to Veterans Corp. and the city, charging that Wickersham and Doyle’s First Amendment rights had been violated.
A district court judge ruled in 2006 that the public had the right to protest at the show, which includes distributing leaflets and carrying signs but prevents petitioning inside the event. The arrangement also prevents the public from protesting during the noontime solemn ceremony which honors veterans at the air show.
Salute to Veterans sought to overturn that decision earlier this year in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost. The city did not appeal the original decision. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision to not hear a final appeal early Tuesday, said Marilyn Teitelbaum, the cooperating attorney for the ACLU.
“It’s all over and we won,” Teitelbaum said. “There’s no place else they can go.”
Teitelbaum will now apply for reimbursement for attorney’s fees associated with fighting the Supreme Court appeal. She did not have a figure ready Tuesday afternoon, but she said attorney’s fees from the original case and first appeal — about $244,000 plus $2,000-$4,000 worth of expenses — have already been paid by the city and Salute to Veterans.
Mary Posner, chairwoman for Salute to Veterans, declined to comment and directed all questions to her attorney, Dale Doerhoff, who did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
City attorney Fred Boeckmann said the city’s legal defense — which cost approximately $40,000 — was paid for through a self-insurance policy. However, in an agreement between the city and Salute to Veterans, the city is protected from legal responsibility, so the not-for-profit has reimbursed the city for those costs.
The city also paid about $100,000 of the plaintiff’s legal fees from the original court case, for which Boeckmann said will be reimbursed to the city in the form of rent for future air shows. Salute to Veterans previously paid no rent, Boeckmann said.
Teitelbaum said Salute to Veterans based its appeal on claims that it was not acting on behalf of the state when it booted protesters and therefore could not violate First Amendment rights. The veteran’s group also voiced that its own First Amendment rights had been violated by forcing it to allow speech contrary to its own message at the air show, Teitelbaum said.