Restaurants Can Legally Refuse to Serve Trump Officials Like Sarah Sanders

National legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union weighs in

Last Updated: June 25, 2018 @ 1:59 PM

Restaurant owner Stephanie Wilkinson created a national uproar when she asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her Virginia eatery on Friday. It turns out that restaurants in most states — including Virginia — can legally refuse to serve public officials like Sanders, according to David Cole, the National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Only three jurisdictions in the United States — D.C., Virgin Islands, and Seattle — prohibit public accommodations from refusing to serve individuals based on political affiliation or ideology,” Cole told TheWrap on Monday. “Virginia law does not.”

And when it comes to federal law, it would only protect those refused restaurant service for reasons other than political beliefs.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers race, religion, national origin and color “as factors that make discrimination illegal everywhere,” Washington University law professor Elizabeth Sepper told The Washington Post.

Wilkinson said she asked Sanders to leave the Red Hen because of her position in the Trump administration. “This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals,” she told the Washington Post, adding that she believes that Sarah Huckabee Sanders works in the service of an “inhumane and unethical” administration.

Wilkinson told the Post that Sanders agreed to leave the restaurant immediately, and added that she would make the same decision again, despite the uproar that ensued over the weekend. The restaurant’s page on Yelp was flooded with reviews from both supporters and critics, totaling 15,657 as of Monday morning, and it currently has a rating of 1.5 stars.

Yelp is working to remove some of these posts, with a pop-up message on the page explaining, “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.”

Sanders later tweeted that she did not agree with Wilkinson’s decision to ask her to leave. “Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so,” she wrote on Saturday morning.

President Donald Trump denounced the restaurant for removing Sanders on Monday morning, tweeting that the restaurant should “focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside.”

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