The Virginia Attorney General ruled that Isle of Wight County’s actions were unconstitutional with regards to a booth request by Del. Rick Morris at the fair.
Morris (R-64th) had asked Isle of Wight County staff 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.
County staff initially declined his request, citing its ban on political booths set the previous year. Morris took the issue to the the fair committee, calling it a violation of his First Amendment rights. After consultation with the Board of Supervisors, the committee decided Morris could have the booth, but was not allowed to pass out political material because of its ban. The Board of Supervisors also denied that the county had violated Morris' First Amendment rights.
“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.
Morris took the issue to the attorney general.
The attorney general disagreed with the county.
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.