Court not ruling on artistic merit of purple octopus

The US Supreme Court has been asked to review the case on free-speech concerns.

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The fate of the giant purple octopus on Main Street now rests with the nation's highest court.

Judging from the comments posted on Facebook and other social media, some believe the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices should rule on the artistic merits of the mural above the Inland Octopus toy store.

Those folks are mistaken. The fight over whether the purple octopus looming over the intersection of Second Avenue and Main Street has never been about artistic merit or whether the painting is cute and whimsical. The painting is certainly fun and very appropriate for a toy store.

But what the dispute is about -- and has always been about --is the fact toy store owner Bob Catsiff had the mural painted above his store without getting required approval and in violation of the city's sign code, which sets a limit on the size of a downtown sign. Catsiff has conceded the mural is a de facto sign.

Catsiff, through attorney Michael de Grasse, will be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the city's ordinance infringes on Catsiff's First Amendment right of free speech.

The argument would seem to be a stretch. The city's ordinance does not address content, only the size of the mural/sign. Catsiff could have had the exact same message on his sign if it were smaller and conformed to the sign code.

To this point, the city of Walla Walla's stand calling for the removal of the sign has prevailed in court. A local Superior Court judge ruled against Catsiff and then he lost a state Court of Appeals ruling. The state Supreme Court opted not to review his case.

That makes the U.S. Supreme Court the last stand for the giant purple octopus.

If Catsiff loses the appeal or the court declines to hear the case, the $100-a-day fine -- which now stands at about $76,000 -- could be well over $100,000. The justices won't decide until the spring whether to hear the case and if they do the review could take another year to 18 months.

Meanwhile, a pointless and divisive debate will continue in Walla Walla.

Those who support the mural will argue it brings joy to children and adds charm to downtown. They will point to the paint jobs and signs in the downtown business district as far more inappropriate than the big purple octopus.

Others believe the octopus is a bad fit for Main Street.

And then there are those who are irked the rules established for downtown buildings were not followed.

The sooner the Supreme Court settles this matter the better.

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