Come one, come all, adopt a highway!

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

In Michigan, we have all seen the road signs that recognize a family, business or organization that has volunteered to spruce up the highway by picking up litter for a certain number of miles. 

I saw some of the “Adopt A Highway” bags filled with trash on U.S. 23 just the other day.  Not only does this help the environment, but it keeps the roads safer as potentially hazardous debris is removed, and the landscape is beautified. I’ve always considered the recognition signs to be a sort of public “thank you” to those who have volunteered their time (and safety) to making a difference. Most of the signs are thanking families, large company employees, memorial groups, and yes, at times, law firms, for their help.

When I think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), I can honestly say I have never considered the organization to be civic minded.  My immediate images are those of exclusion, hatred, racism and violence against others for reasons out of one’s control, such as ethnicity and skin color.  However, in 2012, the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan decided, hey, let’s pick up litter on a highway in Georgia!  So, they filed the paperwork to do so, but were rejected by the Georgia Department of Transportation, for two reasons. First, the area they were seeking to adopt was “unadoptable” due to safety concerns; and two, Georgia just didn’t think it was a good idea given the KKK’s history record of “civil disturbance.” I think many people would be shocked if they saw a sign thanking the KKK for picking up garbage on the highway, and that could lend itself to accidents, or perhaps incidents that were not exactly accidental.

Considering its persistence throughout history, the KKK wasn’t going to leave it at that.  It sued the Georgia Department of Transportation, through the ACLU, offering to pick up litter in another location, with the crux of the case being that it was denied its right to free speech, as provided by the Georgia Constitution.  The trial court sided with the KKK in finding that refusing to accept an application for the history of civil disturbance was “‘…an unconstitutional infringement on an applicant’s right to free speech.’”  It also prohibited the Department from denying applications to Adopt a Highway for this reason.

An appeal was filed by the Department of Transportation; however, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on July 5, 2016, that the appeal was brought incorrectly, and it was left with no option but to dismiss the appeal on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction.

With the recent escalation of racial tension in the US, it is doubtful that this ruling will help calm the atmosphere – but I guess everyone has the right to pick up trash.

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Marie E. Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

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