- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Ku Klux Klan chapter is claiming a partial victory after Georgia’s highest court ruled unanimously Tuesday in favor of the group’s attempt to sponsor a one-mile section of state highway.

The Georgia Supreme Court said in a 33-page opinion that the state Department of Transportation failed to properly pursue a legal challenge against the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, clearing the way for the group to move forward with a 2012 free speech lawsuit.

In May 2012, the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan filed an application with Union County, Georgia, in an effort to participate in the state’s “Adopt-a-Highway” program.

In exchange for maintaining the one-mile stretch of State Route 515, the chapter asked to have “Georgia IKK Ku Klux Klan” placed on a road-sign sign. IKK stands for International Keystone Knights.

Despite initially providing the group with garbage bags and safety vests by the county, however, the Georgia DOT ultimately rejected the Klan’s bid and said “erecting a sign naming an organization which has a long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.”

“These potential impacts are such that were the application granted, the goal of the program, to allow civic-minded organizations to participate in public service for the state of Georgia, would not be met,” DOT Commissioner Keith Golden wrote in the rejection letter.

The Klan responded by filing suit against the state in September 2012 with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging in Fulton County Superior Court that the DOT’s decision had violated its First Amendment right. Two years later, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua agreed and said the state’s rejection was “an unconstitutional infringement on an applicant’s right of free speech,” spurring an appeal from the state that was rejected this week in Georgia Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Georgia DOT had argued that the state and its agencies should be shielded from such lawsuits under the principle of sovereign immunity. But dismissing the appeal on a technicality, the high court said the DOT had failed to correctly follow the procedures necessary to claim such protection.

“Because the Department appeals from a decision of a Superior Court reviewing a decision of a state administrative agency, it was required … to bring its appeal by way of an application for discretionary review,” the high court ruled. “The Department failed to do so, and that circumstance leaves this Court without appellate jurisdiction. Accordingly, this appeal must be dismissed.”

In rejecting the state’s appeal, Klan members go move forward with their 2012 free speech lawsuit. Alan Begner, an attorney for the group, told The Associated Press that the chapter considers the ruling a win. A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, meanwhile, told the AP that Georgia officials are reviewing the ruling and weighing their options.

Georgia DOT suspended its “Adopt-a-Highway” program in 2012 amid litigation brought by the Klan. Prior to then, DOT rules states any “civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state or federal agency” could participate in the program.

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