Rich Collins, erstwhile candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 57th HoD race, has filed suit against Shoppers World over his arrest for campaigning there in May. Collins was introducing himself to voters in the parking lot in front of Whole Foods when Shoppers World manager Charles Lebo asked him to leave. When Lebo said that he’d let others campaign there, just not Collins, the Democrat refused to leave. Though the resultant arrest for may have actually helped his support at the ballot box a few weeks later, he still lost to former mayor David Toscano.
The suit against Lebo and Shoppers World has being filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute (strange bedfellows), who argue that shopping centers are substantially public for purposes of protected first amendment expression, such as conversation between a candidate and a voter, and that, subject to “reasonable time, place and manner” restrictions, they should not be permitted to bar candidates. One of Collins’ attorneys points out roadways in shopping centers are regulated as public; not such that VDOT maintains them, but it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol in a shopping center’s lot. The purpose of the suit is not money — Collins wants the right to return to the shopping center to campaign for David Toscano.
Central to the suit is the matter of the loss of public space. The Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead says: “As corporations and shopping centers get bigger, where do people go? They go to the shopping centers. It’s the only place where people can congregate, where people can exchange ideas, leaflets.”
Liesel Nowak has the story in today’s Daily Progress. There’s also the ACLU’s press release and the suit itself (36k PDF).
6 thoughts on “Collins Sues Shoppers World”
This is a case of unintended consequences. Both sides are ‘right’. The Shopping Center is not in the obligation to host unproductive political and social gatherings that may and typically do negatively impact their business, whilst political activists have nowhere else to go to achieve an adequate impact due to the loss of public spaces.
We will see many more of these ‘conundrums’ as we discover that ‘laisser faire’ ultra capitalism doesn’t have answers for our complex world. I fear America will only see the light once tremendous failure empirically demonstrates its case.
Both sides are ‘right’.
That’s what I like about the case. At the time that Rich was arrested (he called from the police station, since my fiancee managed his campaign), I explained all of the reasons why he was clearly in the wrong, and I was right. He subsequently explained all of the reasons why he was in the right, and damned if he wasn’t right, too. That’s why I like Rich. :)
The only winner is the status quo. And IMO, that’s the worst outcome possible.
I’m sorry, but I come down squarely on the side of Shopper’s World. I hope we are all aghast at the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding eminent domain in which local governments are allowed to seize private property for the express purpose of selling it to developers. I hope we all approve the slow legislative shift aimed at keeping protesters from closing down clinics. I see all of these things as connected.
Yes, yes, yes. Free speech is protected — but not on sombody else’s property and not if it tramples all over somebody else’s rights. If this case gets decided in such a way that groups can seize the use of someone else’s property it will be as bad as the Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain. It’s called theft when you take someone else’s stuff and that’s what this is. I’m sorry there aren’t enough publicly owned sidewalks — haunt planning and zoning meetings and have that changed, but going to law to take someone else’s property because you can’t find a useful bit that it’s currently legal to use is horrifically wrong.
Collins totally lost me on this one.
When I first heard about this case (i.e. the original case, when Collins was arrested), my initial reaction was “what a foolish way to try to attract attention,” and found the whole episode silly and an indication that he wasn’t a serious candidate. Upon further reflection, I think I started to see his point – the “public square” IS vanishing (though, frankly, the 57th district includes the Downtown Mall, where he could have campaigned all day without interference adn could have met a LOT more people in a day than he could have encountered in a week at Shopper’s World). However, he should and hopefully will lose this suit.
While I doubt that most people would have a problem with legitimate candidates asking for votes in a shopping center, if the courts rule that “political speech” can’t be infringed upon at Shopper’s World, where is the line and who draws it (and who determines when a candidate is “legitimate”)? If candidates are allowed to practice their free speech on private property, does that mean anti-abortion forces can demonstrate in the parking lot with their enormous photos of dead fetuses? Does it mean that Cindy Sheehan can set up camp on one side of the Whole Foods entrance (or in front of a gun shop), and Sean Hannity can do a live remote from the other? How about if Army recruiters approached every high school kid who showed up and tried to sign them up? How about church groups from Roanoke heading for the Fashion Square parking lot, now that the county has finally removed them from intersections? These are all forms of protected speech, but I don’t think they belong on private property without an invitation.
It’s easy to side with Collins as the unknown and underfunded little guy trying (unsuccessfully) to get a foothold somehow, but I can’t see the courts ruling in this case to allow one form of speech and disallowing others, and I REALLY can’t see the local authorities trying to define the difference.
“It’s easy to side with Collins as the unknown and underfunded little guy trying (unsuccessfully) to get a foothold somehow[…]”
You aren’t. Elizabeth isn’t. Waldo’s initial reaction didn’t (final eval pending).
“Upon further reflection, I think I started to see his point – the “public square” IS vanishing (though, frankly, the 57th district includes the Downtown Mall, where he could have campaigned all day without interference adn could have met a LOT more people in a day than he could have encountered in a week at Shopper’s World).”
The constituency on the Downtown Mall is not the one Collins was apparently trying to reach.
“However, he should and hopefully will lose this suit. “
This statement tends to contradict your 1st quote above. No doubt your wishes have high probability of success. They are, after all, those of the status quo.
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