Recently, the ACLU of Virginia was asked whether the plaza outside the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station is a public forum where speech and expressive activities are protected by the First Amendment. The question was whether the plaza should be freely open to all expressive activities, including political campaigning, equally. The issue seemed complicated by the fact that the plaza is on public property leased to a private company as part of the public-private development of the station. The private company was allowing one of its employees who is running for local office to campaign on the site but not others. After an initial review of the law and the facts, we concluded that the First Amendment does apply on the plaza, and we wrote a letter to Fairfax officials asking them to step up and protect the constitutional rights of their constituents.
We got an immediate response to our letter from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s Chair Sharon Bulova who said, “on the record”: “I personally agree strongly with you and am examining our legal recourse.”
Within three hours, after consulting with the County Attorney and with us, the Chair sent a letter to the Comstock Companies, which leases on the property, advising that she believed that the company was violating the law, and that she looked “forward to hearing that Comstock has immediately opened up the Plaza for campaigning by all of the candidates.” The Chair went on to say, “If this assurance is not forthcoming, then appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that the Plaza area is open in the future for all activities protected by the First Amendment.”
“This is a great example of public officials taking positive action and doing the right thing when advised of a wrongdoing,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, said. “We were glad to be able to work with Fairfax Board Chair Sharon Bulova to move this issue to a speedy and, hopefully, long-term resolution that will ensure the constitutional right of people to engage in expressive activities on the plaza at the Reston Metro station is preserved and defended.”