Court: President can screen audience

WASHINGTON — A president and his aides are free to screen audiences for his public speeches and to remove those who may disagree with him, under a ruling the Supreme Court let stand Tuesday.

By a 7-2 vote, the justices turned down an appeal from a Colorado woman who was ejected from a speech by aides to President George W. Bush because her car had a bumper sticker that said "No More Blood for Oil."

Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor voted to hear the case of the Colorado woman, saying the Constitution does not permit public officials to punish people simply "for holding discordant views."

"Official reprisal for protected speech offends the Constitution," Ginsburg said in her dissent, "because it threatens to inhibit exercise of the protected right."

In 2005, Leslie Weise, a clean-energy consultant, had obtained a ticket to hear Bush speak in Denver about Social Security. She and Alex Young arrived together and entered the hall where the president was due to speak.

But aides were alerted about the bumper sticker on their car, and they were escorted out of the hall.

Bush White House aides have been sued in several cases for having excluded suspected dissidents and critics from the president's public appearances. In responses to these suits, aides said they wanted to prevent critics from disrupting his speeches.

But there was no allegation that Weise or Young had any plan or intent to disrupt Bush's talk in Denver. They filed suit against Michael Casper and another official who made the decision to remove them. Secret Service agents revealed that the bumper sticker was the basis for excluding them from the meeting hall.

A federal judge in Denver and the U.S. Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision rejected the claim and held that excluding the pair did not violate the First Amendment. "President Bush had the right, at his own speech, to ensure that only his message was conveyed," Judge Wiley Daniel wrote in dismissing the suit.

Weise appealed to the Supreme Court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and argued that when government officials are "speaking at events that are open to the public and paid for by the taxpayers," they may not screen out people based solely on their views.

They acknowledged the president or other elected officials may screen the audience when they are speaking at partisan political gatherings or at private gatherings.

The justices without comment turned down the appeal in Weise v. Casper.