Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of KKK in ‘Adopt-A-Highway’ Lawsuit

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Georgia Supreme Court rejected a state appeal of a lower court decision Tuesday, ruling in favor of the Ku Klux Klan and its right to free speech -- and to pick up litter on the side of a highway through a government program.

The opinion, written by Justice Keith R. Blackwell, stated, however, that the appeal was dismissed because it was filed incorrectly, leaving Georgia's highest court without jurisdiction.

The ACLU Foundation of Georgia filed a lawsuit in 2012 on behalf International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (IKKK) against the State of Georgia after the IKKK's application was rejected by the state's Adopt-A-Highway program.

Georgia's Adopt-A-Highway website states that it "provides recognition for participating companies and organizations" in return for removing litter from state roadsides.

When the IKKK applied to clean up a stretch of State Route 515, the Department of Transportation rejected its application partially because, "The impact of erecting a sign naming an organization which has a long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern," according to the Georgia Supreme Court's opinion.

But the decision to reject the application violated free speech and due process guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution, according to the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.

“The fundamental right to free speech is not limited to only those we agree with or groups that are inoffensive. The government cannot pick or choose who is protected by the Constitution,” Debbie Seagraves, the former Executive Director of the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, said in a statement at the time the lawsuit was filed. “There will always be speech and groups conveying hateful messages that are distasteful to some. That is why the First Amendment protects free speech for all.”

Years of litigation followed as the Georgia Department of Transportation attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed, in part citing "sovereign immunity," because it is a state agency, according to the opinion published yesterday. The case eventually made its way to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the IKKK on the technicality.

"The ACLU and my law firm did this to protect the freedom of speech, so it's a big victory," Alan Begner, an attorney for the KKK group, told ABC News today. "The next step is to go to work picking up litter."

Begner added that he wished the Georgia Supreme Court would have discussed the issue of sovereign immunity in more depth.

The Georgia Department of Transportation and the state attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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