Smithsonian Smackdown: One Artist vs. Institution

Smithsonian Smackdown: One Artist vs. Institution "unafraid and unashamed" by artist julian raven is observed in 2019 "Unafraid and Unashamed" by artist Julian Raven is observed in 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

By Micah Hart | Monday, 25 July 2022 11:43 AM EDT

Immigrant artist Julian Raven first got noticed in 2015 with his 8×16 feet portrait of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, titled "Unafraid and Unashamed."

In his new tell-all book, "Odious and Cerberus, An American Immigrant's Odyssey and his Free-Speech Legal War Against Smithsonian Corruption," Raven discusses his story and his battle over the National Portrait Gallery rejecting his Trump piece.

"I knew I had to share what I learned with the American people," Raven told Newsmax.

In his book and in his interview with Newsmax, Raven emphasized the so-called unfair nature of the institution. There is "no legal accountability," Raven told Newsmax about the entity status of the Smithsonian.

Raven said this, paired with the institution's failure to act under the separation of powers, is cause for concern.

Initially, he brought his case against the Smithsonian Institution and its officers, such as National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet. The case was labeled Raven v. United States.

Sajet had formerly rejected his work, saying that it was too pro-Trump and not good, among other things.

To Raven, the Smithsonian acts as an "ideological rubber stamp for all causes liberal. [It] promotes all of their ideology."

"We are non-partisan, which is different from bipartisan," Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian, told Newsmax. "All past presidents have their portraits in our National Portrait Gallery done by an artist of the former president’s choosing."

Determined to end what he considered liberal bias, Raven filed his grievances in court. In his memorandum opinion, Trump-appointed Judge Trevor McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said: "Mr. Raven claims that the decision was motivated by political bias, violating his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. He may be right about the motivation, but he is wrong about the law. The First Amendment's Free Speech Clause does not limit the Gallery's art decisions, because it protects private speech, rather than curtailing government speech. Nor does the Fifth Amendment apply, as Mr. Raven has no legal right to the Gallery's consideration."

In addition, Raven cited the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). According to the United States House of Representatives website, FTCA allows "Individuals who are injured or whose property is damaged by the wrongful or negligent act of a federal employee acting in the scope of his or her official duties may file a claim with the government for reimbursement for that injury or damage."

The judge dismissed this as well. St. Thomas said: "Mr. Raven wanted the National Portrait Gallery to display his portrait of Donald Trump. We declined. He took the matter to court and the judge ruled against him."

Not one to take no for an answer, the artist fought until he reached the Supreme Court. But the high court never heard Raven's case.

As to why, Raven noted that Chief Justice John Roberts serves as the chancellor of the Board of Regents (charged with the administration of the Smithsonian), and, the artist believes, this is a reason why the case was thwarted.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, "The chancellor, usually the chief justice of the United States, presides over Board of Regents meetings and official ceremonies of the Institution."

Raven quipped back at the court, telling Newsmax: "You guys [the Supreme Court] need to do your job. The job of the court is to say what the law is."

In addition to the chief justice, the board is composed of the vice president, three members from the House, three from the Senate, and nine private citizens.

"All members are sitting at the same table violating the separation of powers," Raven told Newsmax.

Michael Cozzi, a writer for Newsmax now in his final year at Catholic University Law School, said: "It's more just a conflict of interest."

Cozzi said situations similar to Raven's would present as a conflict of interest, particularly for the chief justice if he or she currently presides as chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Cozzi also suggested that the justice with the conflict of interest (the chief justice in this case) should recuse himself or herself from being part of that specific case.

Disappointed in the federal courts, Raven now hopes to appeal to another court: the court of public opinion.

"We the people have got to do this," Raven said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., formerly introduced bills advocating transparency by the Smithsonian. The bills just made it to introduction, but now Raven is pushing for action with an amendment and reform bill.

Raven calls on Congress to create a bill called "The People's Smithsonian Reform Bill."

Raven, who called on Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 riots, desires for a bill to support the amendment of the Smithsonian Act of Congress. In addition, Raven hopes for a bipartisan committee to review and alter the amendments.

According to his book, the goals of the amendments include: new definitions pertaining to the entity status of the Smithsonian and their ties to the government; restructuring the Board of Regents to be composed of 21 citizens, other than government officials, with knowledge on the varying subject matters that the Smithsonian emphasizes; transparency via open business meetings among other things; and the creation of the Smithsonian Department of Controversial Subject Matter.

Echoing his devotion to the cause, Raven expressed: "We can do it with righteousness, dignity, and honor."

Micah Hart, a Newsmax intern, is studying politics and journalism at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Original Article