Supreme Court Rejects Contractor’s First Amendment Case That Architecture Is Free Speech | News


The mansion proposed by Burns. Image courtesy of City of Palm Beach via Palm Beach Daily News

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a Florida entrepreneur who claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when plans for his mansion project were rejected by Palm Beach officials.

The case centered on telecommunications entrepreneur Donald Burns, who petitioned Palm Beach authorities in 2014 to demolish an existing 10,000 square foot traditional beachfront home and replace it with a more contemporary 20,000 mansion. square feet. However, the plans were rejected by the Palm Beach Architectural Review Board, which decided that the proposal failed to achieve “overall cohesiveness” and deviated too drastically from surrounding properties.

burns appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the ruling violated his First Amendment rights. The court ruled against Burns in a 2-1 decision, rejecting his argument that the design of the house constituted his own expressive conduct. “A reasonable observer would regard Burns’ new mansion as a very large house but not as the expression of any sort of message,” read the majority opinion of Justices Luck and Carnes.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Marcus instead argued that “the First Amendment — the most powerful pledge to think, speak, and speak in the history of the world — does not allow the government to impose its whims. Majority aesthetics to Burns for no substantial reason. ”

The mansion proposed by Burns. Image courtesy of City of Palm Beach via Palm Beach Daily News

In November 2021, Burns filed a motion to have the case heard by the United States Supreme Court. In the submission, Burns’ lawyers argued that the design of the contemporary mansion “indicated that his new home would be clean, fresh, independent and modern – a reflection of his evolved philosophy of simplicity in lifestyle and living by putting emphasis on fewer personal possessions, and communicated his message that he was unique and different from his neighbors.The traditional style of his home no longer reflected his views or identity.

“Architectural design, particularly the design of one’s own home, is an expressive art form that can, and for the design proposed by Burns, should be entitled to robust First Amendment protection,” the petition continues.

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Burns has also gained support from groups such as the US National Association of Home Builders. “This court has never specifically addressed the status of architecture as expressive conduct,” the group wrote in a supporting statement, saying “architecture is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment, no different from other mediums describing or otherwise involving architecture, such as Edward Hopper’s painting House by the Railroad or the Simon & Garfunkel song So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the meantime, attorneys for the Palm Beach planning authorities have submitted their own brief against Burns’ petition. “The petitioner’s continuing effort to invoke fundamental constitutional rights in an otherwise straightforward zoning case involving the municipal denial of a new oversized home on an undersized lot in accordance with stated architectural review criteria presents no grounds for complaint. ‘examination by this court,’ the document read. , before noting that the Supreme Court has never considered zoning laws through the lens of First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court finally refused to hear the case.

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