The application was rejected in 2012 by Georgia’s DOT which claimed the 65-mph speed limit in the area exempted the stretch from the adoption program, but it also stated that the group’s “long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.”
A few months later, the KKK chapter filed a lawsuit and are now taking the issue to the Georgia Supreme Court in hopes that they can one day rock their white hooded gear and spread their message of hate while cleaning up Georgia’s highways.
Oddly enough, the Klan has the support of the ACLU in their quest.
A 3 year battle has been raging surround the state’s attempt to block the International Keystone Knights branch of the white supremacist organization from sponsoring a stretch of road in northern Georgia.
It all stemmed from a dispute in spring 2012, when KKK members April Chambers and Harley Hanson submitted an application to claim a one-mile stretch on Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina border.
“We just want to clean up the doggone road,” Hanson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “We’re not going to be out there in robes.”
The state’s Department of Transportation denied the request, explaining in a rejection letter that the area had a 65 mph speed limit and was not safe for volunteers. The other issue was with the name “KKK” and the implications of sign posted on a highway that bared the name..
“The impact of erecting a sign naming an organization which as a long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.”
The Klan – with help from the ACLU – filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court, requesting an injunction to stop the state from denying the permit, as well as a declaratory judgment claiming the state violated the state constitution.
The case has since bounced back and forth… further making it a matter for the state’s top court.
A trial judge issued a final order in late 2014, ruling that the state’s rejection was an unconstitutional infringement on the KKK’s right to free speech and, further, that the state could not deny applications to its Adopt-A-Highway program out of “public concern” based on the group’s history.
Georgia’s appeals court ordered the case moved to the state supreme court in November, in part because of the state’s sovereign immunity defense and on Monday (Feb 22, 2016), the state supreme court court took the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped the KKK initiate the lawsuit. The legal advocacy organization has said that rejecting the group’s application opens the door for the state to deny participation other groups like Black Lives Matter, journalists, or political lobbyists.
“It will be expanding the right of the state to engage in viewpoint discrimination,” the ACLU told the Washington Post earlier this week.
“That is, the state will be given a license to refuse participation of individuals and groups whose speech the government disagrees with.”
Arguments are expected to continue for several months as the state’s top court tests Georgia’s claim of sovereign immunity.
“You can’t deny participation like having your name on a sign based on the content of that person’s speech,” Alan Begner, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “That’s a core violation of the First Amendment.”
Meanwhile, Begner says his clients are prepared to re-submit their application to the Department of Transportation if they win.
“We’re going to knock on the door,” Begner said. “and say, ‘We’re ready for our signs and our vests and our trash bag.”