The Virginia Attorney General ruled that Isle of Wight County’s actions were unconstitutional with regards to banning a booth request by Del. Rick Morris.
Morris (R-64th) had asked the Isle of Wight County fair committee, and later, the Board of Supervisors, if he could set up a dunking booth at the 2014 fair to raise money for CASA — a non-profit that helps abused and neglected children and an organization in which Morris had long been involved with.
The fair committee declined his application because it had banned elected officials and political organizations from setting up booths at the fair. Morris appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which supported the fair committee’s decision and denied that his First Amendment rights were being violated.
“It is the fair committee’s position, based upon legal advice, that your assertion that the prohibition of political booths at the county fair is a violation of your constitutional rights to free speech is unfounded,” according a July 29 letter signed by Board Chairman Buzz Bailey.
The attorney general disagreed.
According to a summary by the attorney general, the “absolute prohibition on political booths at a county fair is not constitutionally permissible and charging a higher fee for such booths than others is presumptively unconstitutional unless justified by a compelling governmental interest, and unless it is narrowly drawn to meet that interest.”
In 2013, the fair committee decided to charge a higher fee to political organizations wanting to set up a booth because of prior conflicts over space and other issues. The fair committee later decided to ban all political organizations and individuals from setting up booths at the fair.
“It’s unfortunate that county officials can so easily disregard basic constitutional rights. As an elected official of the General Assembly, I believe it’s my duty to protect individual liberties and freedoms and keep government from infringing on our constitutional rights,” Morris said in a statement issued Dec. 24.