Following up on an item from last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) administration in Louisiana has decided to sue MoveOn.org in federal court, accusing the progressive activist group of violating trademark rules when it put up billboards criticizing Jindal’s opposition to Medicaid expansion.
The state is suing MoveOn.org for its use of the Louisiana tourism logo and tagline for the critical billboard, alleging that the group’s parody and criticism is causing “irreparable harm, injury, and damages” to the state’s culture tourism office. They sent a cease-and-desist letter last week, warning of the impending lawsuit.“We have invested millions of dollars in identifying the Louisiana: Pick Your Passion brand with all that is good about Louisiana,” Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said in a release announcing the lawsuit, according to the Times Picayune. Dardenne, a candidate for governor next year, runs the state’s culture tourism office. “No group should be allowed to use the brand for its own purposes, especially if it is for partisan political posturing.”
This is sure to be an interesting lawsuit. In Louisiana, Medicaid expansion would bring coverage to nearly a quarter of a million low-income residents, but the conservative governor has refused to even consider the proposal. It’s why MoveOn.org put up a billboard that reads, “LOU!SIANA Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”
The Jindal administration wasn’t amused – “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion” is the slogan tied to the state’s tourism campaign, and it doesn’t want the phrasing appropriated by a progressive group targeting the governor. MoveOn.org, meanwhile, believes its political speech is intended as satire and is therefore covered by the First Amendment.
I don’t know nearly enough about trademark rules to weigh in with an opinion as to who’s right, but it’s nevertheless amazing to see Jindal’s 180-degree reversal on the importance of championing free speech.
As we recently discussed, it was just December when Phil Robertson, one of the stars of a reality-television show called “Duck Dynasty,” made a series of offensive comments during an interview. A&E, the network that airs the reality show, decided to suspend him over his bigoted remarks.
Jindal immediately leapt to Robertson’s defense. For a private business to suspend an employee, the governor said, was an affront to the “First Amendment.” As a constitutional matter, this was gibberish, but the far-right governor dug in anyway, positioning himself as a free-speech absolutist – Americans must be able to communicate whatever message they please, without exception or consequence.
“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” Jindal said. “This is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.”
As the Jindal administration now sees it, when a television network suspends an employee, it’s an outrageous First Amendment violation, but when a state government tries to restrict political speech on a billboard, that’s fine.
Jindal sees himself as a champion of free speech in the private sector, while balking at free speech in the public sector. And given the relative silence from the right over the last few days, it appears many of the conservatives who couldn’t wait to defend Phil Robertson’s right to speak his mind aren’t nearly as concerned about MoveOn.org’s ability to make a policy point on a billboard.