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Abbott vs. FFRF case heard by 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover is pictured outside the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, after delivering oral arguments in the lawsuit Abbott v. FFRF on Oct. 10. He was accompanied by Richard L. Bolton, the outside litigator working with FFRF on the case, who took this photo. Grover defended FFRF’s victory in its challenge of censorship by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who had ordered the removal of FFRF’s famous “Bill of Rights Nativity” display from the Texas state Capitol, while permitting a Christian nativity display to continue.

FFRF’s whimsical cut-out display shows three Founding Fathers and the

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover

Statue of Liberty celebrating the “birth” of the Bill of Rights, which occurred on Dec. 15, 1791. A federal district judge ruled in FFRF’s favor in June 2018. Abbott appealed the case on what FFRF considers to be a flimsy argument based on a technicality: that the presiding judge used past-tense language in his decision declaring that Abbott had abrogated FFRF’s free speech rights. Meanwhile, FFRF also appealed a law that Abbott had cited in censoring FFRF’s display, requiring that displays in the Capitol serve a “public purpose.” FFRF argues that the law is unconstitutionally vague, and grants unbridled discretion to the governor.

The three-judge appellate panel that heard the case, was comprised of  these federal judges: Senior Judge W. Eugene Davis, a Reagan appointee, Judge James E. Graves, Jr., an Obama appointee and Judge Stephen A. Higginson, also an Obama appointee.