Candidate for House of Delegates was charged with trespassing while distributing campaign literature at Shoppers’ World in Albemarle CountyRichmond, VA-- Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and The Rutherford Institute today filed papers to appeal the Albemarle County Circuit Court’s July 31 ruling, which held that political candidates do not have a constitutional right to campaign at shopping centers.
“Although privately owned, shopping centers essentially serve the same purpose and function as publicly owned town squares,” said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg. “The authors of the Virginia Constitution clearly meant to protect free speech in such community spaces.”
The case stems from the prosecution of Richard C. Collins, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 2005 Democratic Party primary. Collins was charged with trespassing on May 7 after greeting customers and distributing campaign literature outside the Whole Foods store in Shoppers’ World, a large shopping center located off Rt. 29 in Albemarle County. Collins did not obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and was polite in his dealings with shoppers, but he was asked to leave by a shopping center official.
“As places to meet and greet neighbors and friends, shopping centers—especially in suburban areas—are ideal for exchanging ideas and information,” added Glenberg.
State courts in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington have already interpreted their state constitutions to protect, at least to some degree, the right to free speech in malls and shopping centers.
Article I, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution provides that the “freedoms of speech and of the press are among the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained except by despotic governments” and “that any citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.”
The lawyers for Collins are: Stephen D. Rosenfield, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia; R. Frazier Solsberry, participating attorney for The Rutherford Institute; and Rebecca K. Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia.
Contacts: ACLU of Virginia: Rebecca K. Glenberg, 804/644-8022 Stephen D. Rosenfield, 434/984-0300