A Mural Quoting Trump at His Most Profane Is Protected Speech, Judge Rules

New Orleans can't use zoning regulations to decide what counts as artistic expression.


A New Orleans warehouse owner may keep up a mural featuring an artist's interpretation of an infamously profane Donald Trump quote about grabbing women "by the pussy," a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The lawsuit pit local warehouse owner (and regular Reason reader) Neal Morris against the City of New Orleans over the city's nebulous regulations of signs and artwork. In 2018, Morris permitted a street artist to paint a mural on his property featuring Trump's quote, recorded by Access Hollywood and released to the public during the 2016 campaign. The artwork (shown above) was mostly a direct quote, with a few of Trump's words—"tits," "bitch," "star," and "pussy"—replaced with pictograms.

Morris went to the city to request information about permitting before putting up the mural, but the city was unable to explain the process of getting authorization. So Morris went ahead and let the artist do his work.

Then the mural got media attention. In response, the City of New Orleans started sending letters to Morris, telling him the mural violated city zoning laws and threatening him with fines and possible jail time. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Morris fought back, arguing that the mural was protected free speech and that the city's review process for getting a mural approved amounted to inadmissible content-based prior restraint.

Reason first noted the lawsuit in March 2018. In the past year, the City of New Orleans has attempted to amend its regulations to separate artistic expression from commercial speech and advertising. But the new rules still obligated people to submit their mural plans to the city, which would determine if the proposal was actually a "work of art." Morris and the ACLU argued that these new regulations still counted as prior restraint and were unconstitutionally vague about what counted as artistic expression, thus violating Morris' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana agreed, granting Morris' motion for a judgment declaring the city's mural ordinance unconstitutional and blocking them from enforcing it.

Morris provided a copy of Feldman's ruling to Reason and clarified the conflict with the city in a brief phone interview. He noted (as did a city employee's testimony included in the judge's ruling) that the city had a practice of not enforcing any sort of mural regulations unless somebody complained. Morris figures that a neighbor complained, which prompted the media coverage and the city's response.

"If you only enforce [these regulations] when there are complaints what you end up with is a heckler's veto," Morris says. "There was a complaint about the pictogram of the boobs and a pussy hat. From what the artist was going for, I get it. Why is it okay for the president to say it and do these things, but if you quote it with a pictogram, that becomes obscene?"

As for the reason that he fought the city: "It's really about government restriction of speech in the age of Trump," Morris says. "Now more than ever we want to be careful about any encroachment on speech, even when well-meaning. What happens when it's not your friends in power?"

Morris agreed to cover the mural with canvas during the legal fight. Now that he's won, Morris says he actually hasn't decided whether he'll take the cover down.

"I may just paint over it," he says. "The artist got his message out and its purpose has been served."

Read the judge's ruling here: 2019.07.09 Feldman Order MSJ Morris v. New Orleans

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  1. “That’s not a ‘pussy’. This is a pussy!”

      1. This mural is extremely inappropriate; clearly the state should be allowed to ban any such “expression” and punish those who engage in it, just like New York has the right to ban inappropriately deadpan “parody” that by its very nature damages, however “truthfully,” the reputation of a highly respectable colleague of ours here at NYU. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

    1. Can someone tell me what the link is?

      1. Underpants Gnome and Cartman Pussy Fight…

    2. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give You Up (Video) = “That’s not a ‘pussy’. This is a pussy!”

  2. I am glad the court recognizes that commercial speech has 1st Amendment protections. I am sceptical that that recognition will extend beyond speech criticizing Trump.

    1. The President is being bullied by speech!

      1. Shorter Crusty “Please Pay Attention to Me”.

        There, I gave you a response. Don’t ever say I didn’t do anything for you.

        1. Hi John.

  3. I don’t get the pictogram — GRAB THEM BY THE SEA URCHIN ?

    1. Better grab that sea urchin before it starts munching on your kelp forest.

  4. To be fair, most Trump supporters were only offended by that picture of breasts in the mural.

    1. Sorry, the mural clearly states that those are not “real” breasts, so they cannot be offensive.

      1. Fake breasts are kind of offensive.

  5. So can the CBP folks posting insulting pictures of AOC on Facebook avoid dismissal because their speech is protected by the 1st? I know FB can shut them down, but is there any regulation that says they can’t post insulting pictures on their own time? Also, could they claim qualified immunity if they hadn’t been trained about such a regulation, if one exists?

    1. FB is private and the 1st doesn’t apply. “Regulation” usually has a government context, but you could mean FB regulation. Then comes “qualified immunity” which only applies to cops, far as I know,and your use of “regulation” in the cop context implies you didn’t mean FB context when you first used it.

    2. Getting fired by your employer for being an embarrassing and disgusting fascist pig isn’t the same thing as government censorship of a private citizen.

  6. replaced with pictograms

    How is that not a crime?

    1. According to USADA, picograms are totally fine.

        1. He just got promoted to vice-president.

  7. Fed’s Powell explains why a return to the gold standard would be so damaging to the economy

    “You’ve assigned us the job of two direct, real economy objectives: maximum employment, stable prices. If you assigned us [to] stabilize the dollar price of gold, monetary policy could do that, but the other things would fluctuate, and we wouldn’t care,” Powell said from Capitol Hill. “We wouldn’t care if unemployment went up or down. That wouldn’t be our job anymore.”

    I think the whole point of a gold standard would be that you wouldn’t have a job and the Fed wouldn’t exist (I think you know that). I’m not in favor of a gold standard per se, but if you pegged the dollar to gold, you should say that a certain number of dollars equals a certain amount of gold. What more is there to do? If the supply of gold rises or falls, so what? An ounce of gold buys you 1000 dollars (or whatever) no matter what.

    1. A gold standard would be great. It would be quite a bit easier to quantify the value of a dollar and impossible to manipulate it. It would be harder to generate debt, in general and you couldn’t inflate your way out of debt. Frankly, it would probably be pretty bad in the short term, but great in the long term. Of course, cryptocurrencies may end the reign of fiat currency whether the government wants to or not.

      1. It would be harder to generate debt, in general and you couldn’t inflate your way out of debt.

        Which is why no government would ever consider such a ludicrous thing.

        1. Easy generation of debt is crucial for a capitalist economy.

          1. And inflating away your debts is crucial for any government addicted to spending.

      2. I used to be a fan of the gold standard. Now I am convinced that in a pure free market, fractional reserve banking would reign supreme. The ideal situation is, of course, to legalize competing currencies.

        1. I used to be a fan of the gold standard. Now I am convinced that in a pure free market, fractional reserve banking would reign supreme.

          Not mutually exclusive.

        2. Now I am convinced that in a pure free market, fractional reserve banking would reign supreme.

          No question about it.

          The ideal situation is, of course, to legalize competing currencies.

          Is that not already the case?

      3. It would be quite a bit easier to quantify the value of a dollar and impossible to manipulate it.

        Difficult, but not impossible. You’d have to somehow manipulate the supply/value of gold.

    2. If we had a gold standard, we couldn’t run the sustained trade deficits we do. Eventually, we would run out of currency and the economy would contract until the trade deficit went away and currency started flowing back into the country again. It is debatable how good or bad that would be.

      1. Yes, but there may be ways around such things. Like I said, I don’t favor a gold standard. I also don’t favor the current Fed system either. Interest rates should be determined by the market, not manipulated by the government.

      2. That sort of thing led the British into pushing narcotics in China.

  8. “Trump didn’t say that, no one saw him say it, you took it out of context, and it wasn’t his fault.” — Trumpista

    1. He was just trying to make a deal. He was a different person then. He’s changed a lot since. Everyone was thinking it back then anyway.

      1. Plus he’s right – most woman would be flattered if a famous, successful person gave them a quick fondle.

        1. Hence the lines outside the Kiss tour bus

          1. I mean I bet even Wheatus still has groupies.

            1. The guys that stole that song from Wheezer?

          2. While some women may line up for a shot at Gene Simmons, it does not necessarily follow that all women would be happy to be groped by Gene Simmons.

            1. it does not necessarily follow that all women would be happy to be groped by Gene Simmons.

              lol right like any sane woman would complain about The Demon’s hand up their skirt.

                1. Okay – I stand corrected. That is pretty hot! Especially the tongue discoloration. Shows a man is experienced.

  9. It’s hilarious that the lefty whiners still parade that quote around, as if it actually matters. They’re never letting go of it, are they? Seems like a good way to drive themselves crazy, but what the heck, it’s their lives (or rather, lack of).

    1. Reading it gives them a feeling of moral superiority. Feeling morally superior is like crack to those people. They can never get enough of it.

      1. No, it just reminds them that the man in charge is a total perv.

  10. History will document that it was the virulent Trump haters who returned to us our right of free speech.

    Best President evah.

  11. The President of the United States of America does certainly not speak in stencils and emojis.

  12. awesome quote *should* be billboarded. love it.

  13. I would think that work, taken as a whole, is a violent assault upon all women who have ever been abused by any man. That is clearly the most triggering visual ever created.
    If that was on a college campus, the artist, the owner of the building, and every man who looked at it and snickered would all be in the title 9 star chamber.
    I only hope some upstanding citizen with a big brush and a can of white paint completes the paint job.

  14. The Feb. 2 editions of Time and Newsweek provide more rounded pictures of President’s Clinton’s chief fixer. And given the X-rated tenor of the scandal , both magazines reported the two men’s fondness for the ladies. Asked what they talked about on the golf course, Mr. Jordan is said to have replied, “We talk pussy.”

  15. Are we sure this is “Trump at his most profane”? Are you saying we’ve achieved peak profane?

    1. “Mr. President, we in the press pool have a bet that you’re too much of a pussy to tell us about your most profane statement.”

  16. Has there ever been a line of bullshit that has received more mileage than this?

    1. “If you like your doctor, you can keep him. Period”?

  17. Just use antifa rules, vandalize the mural. end of problem.

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