The Volokh Conspiracy

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Renaming Columbus Day Into Indigenous People's Day Doesn't Violate the Constitution


So held Judge C. Darnell Jones II yesterday in Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia (E.D. Pa.). He concluded plaintiffs lacked standing to change such a government declaration:

Just because a plaintiff disagrees with the Government's actions, however, does not equate to discriminatory treatment…. Plaintiffs fail to identify any discriminatory impact they have personally experienced from Executive Order 2-21…. Plaintiffs fail to explain, and this Court fails to see, how they have been personally impacted and harmed through the renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' day.

He went on to say that in any event government speech of this sort doesn't violate Equal Protection Clause rights:

Because Executive Order 2-21 constitutes government speech, Plaintiffs, even if they had standing, could not bring a successful Equal Protection violation. The Third Circuit has held that, "[t]he Equal Protection Clause does not apply to government speech." Fields v. Speaker of Pa. H.R. (3d Cir. 2019). This is because "private citizens have no personal interest in government speech on which to base an equal protection claim."

And he added:

Here, Plaintiffs have failed to state any discriminatory impact they have personally experienced from the renaming of Columbus Day. As previously explained at length, Plaintiffs cannot claim that they have been prevented from celebrating either Christopher Columbus or Italian American heritage with the renaming of the holiday, and Plaintiffs can still, personally, refer to the holiday as Columbus Day. Though Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' renaming of Columbus Day wipes away recognition of Italian Americans in favor of Indigenous People, they fail to state any discriminatory impact that supports such a conclusion. Put simply, Plaintiffs do not provide this Court with any details as to how their lives have changed because of the renaming of the holiday. Without such proof, any Equal Protection allegation is futile.

Clearly legally correct, I think, and entirely unsurprising (regardless of what one thinks of the merits).