April 4, 2014; Times-Picayune
Last month, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne filed a suit in federal court against MoveOn.org, citing that the progressive nonprofit violated trademark law with a billboard in Baton Rouge that read, “LOU!SIANA: Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.” He charged that MoveOn.org used the state’s tourism campaign, the slogan for which is “pick your passion,” as a backdrop to criticize Governor Jindal, who, according to MoveOn.org has caused the State of Louisiana to deny 242,000 people Medicaid as a result of opposing the Affordable Care Act.
According to a statement regarding the suit, Lt. Gov. Dardenne stated:
“MoveOn.org has every right to attack Gov. Jindal, the state’s refusal to accept Medicaid or, for that matter, me personally. But they do not have the right to use our protected service mark, which is used solely for the purpose of promoting and marketing Louisiana. We own the mark and its use is under the direction of my office, not the Office of the Governor.”
U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick disagreed, stating that the State of Louisiana “failed to demonstrate a compelling reason to curtail MoveOn.org’s political speech in favor of protecting of the State’s service mark” while also noting that the Louisiana’s tourism campaign would not suffer from “irreparable injury” should MoveOn.org maintain its current campaign.
In response, Anna Galland, the executive director of MoveOn.org’s Civic Action arm, mixed her happiness with the decision alongside their political push against Jindal’s position, stating, “This decision is a victory for common sense, freedom of speech, and the 242,000 Louisianans being denied healthcare because of Governor Jindal and Louisiana Republicans’ outrageous refusal to let them access Medicaid.”
Both sides may find advantage to this legal fight. Lt. Governor Dardenne is seeking the governorship in 2015, and battling MoveOn.org may be a battle that can rally his base in the predominantly Republican state. For MoveOn.org, their Louisiana campaign is part of a national effort against governors who oppose Medicaid expansion available under Obamacare. The campaign is currently being conducted in Wisconsin, Virginia, Texas, Nebraska and Florida.
The state’s case may have always been a difficult one to win. Tulane University Law School professor Keith Werhan believes that cases like Dardenne’s typically do not win, stating, “The government can’t legally silence those who are criticizing them.” That may not stop the state from appealing the recent decision, but the battle between the State of Louisiana and MoveOn.org may move beyond the courts and into the political world as we head to election season.—John Brothers