Man Sues after New Orleans Demands He Take Down Anti-Trump Mural

When Neal Morris commissioned his friend to paint an anti-Donald Trump mural on the side of his warehouse, the real estate developer figured the finished product might cause a stir in his community—it would, after all, spell out the controversial words President Donald Trump uttered in the infamous "Access Hollywood" leak.

He just didn't expect to be threatened with jail time over it.

That's exactly what happened, according to a lawsuit filed this week by Morris and the American Civil Liberties Union. Soon after word of the mural spread in November, Morris said the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits sent him a violation that threatened "a maximum fine or jail time for each and every day the violation continues plus court costs."

Morris was incredulous because, unlike its source material, the mural itself doesn't include any profanity. Cartoon images supplant the more vulgar words Trump used in the tape.

"The president of the United States said these things about his actual behavior—what he actually does to women—and he said it unironically and that's okay," Morris said in an interview with Newsweek. "But if you quote it ironically and cover the bad words, that's obscene?"

Donald Trump mural
The mural is inspired by the Access Hollywood tape, in which then-candidate Donald Trump boasted about grabbing women "by the p*ssy." Robert Morris

According to the suit, the city claims it's a permitting and zoning issue. Both the ACLU and the property owner believe it's an infringement upon civil liberties.

"Forcing artists and their patrons to get permission from the government, pay exorbitant fees, and navigate an obscure bureaucratic process before they can express themselves on their own property is a totally unnecessary trampling of their First Amendment rights," Jane Johnson, ACLU of Louisiana interim executive director, said in a statement to Newsweek.

Morris said he tried to follow city procedure and get a proper permit for the artwork, but he found himself trapped in a briar patch of red tape at city hall. It's a defacto system where the city becomes the arbiters of art and expression, he said.

"I was gobsmacked by the lack of clarity. It's a mess," Morris told Newsweek. "There's no articulation of what the standards are and then it's selectively enforced. What ends up happening is that the art that is political or controversial ends up being the ones with violation notices."

According to New Orleans' municipal code, residents who want to install a mural must go through a mural approval process and submit design renderings for consideration, among other steps. But since receiving the initial citation, Morris said he has been documenting a "ton" of unpermitted murals in the city, trying to prove that works with political undertones are cited more often than benign counterparts. He suspects his mural was only cited because people complained about it and it made local headlines.

The Office of the Mayor declined to comment directly on the lawsuit. A representative told Newsweek that the city is in the midst of "determining the appropriate path forward." Sylvia Law, a professor of civil liberties at New York University, said these types of cases can be tricky.

"Municipalities are allowed to adopt time place and manner restrictions," she said. "But it sounds like the ACLU's complaint is that this one is being implemented in a way that is discriminatory—that some things are allowed or not allowed—or is unduly burdensome."

Law said the ACLU would have to prove that in order for the violation to declared unconstitutional.

In the meantime, Morris has covered up the artwork with something he said is even more poignant: a tarp emblazoned repeatedly with the word "censored."

"Hopefully people see living in a community where we are occasionally confronted with art we find distasteful is preferable to being in a community where busybodies and bureaucrats get to decide what we see," he said.

The "censored" sign is a message to the city government. Neal Harris