The court's rejection, made without comment, means that the KKK chapter must be allowed into Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway (search) program, which is designed to save money by using volunteers for garbage pickup. Volunteer groups are publicly thanked with signs along the highway acknowledging their help.
Every state but Vermont has such a program. States supporting Missouri in the appeal argued that the Supreme Court needed to intervene so that states unwilling to partner with the KKK would not decide to abolish their programs.
The dispute involves a half-mile stretch of Missouri 21 near Potosi, a town of fewer than 3,000 in the eastern part of the state.
A KKK chapter sought permission to pick up trash along the road, but was turned down because the program is not open to groups that discriminate based on race or those that courts have said have a history of violence.
Missouri lawyers had argued that a sign marking the KKK stretch of road could lead to more dumping, and could endanger highway workers mistaken for Klan members.
The Klan sued and won on grounds that it had a First Amendment free speech right to participate.
In its appeal, Missouri attorney Erwin O. Switzer III said state leaders are "trying to avoid giving motorists the mistaken impression that the state has anything good to say about a horrific, racist group."
He argued that the case was about government speech, not speech of the group.
Robert Herman of St. Louis, the attorney for the KKK, said that the group wants to do its part in community service and to express "solidarity with the community."
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Missouri's "desire to exclude controversial organizations in order to prevent 'road rage' or public backlash on the highways against the adopters' unpopular beliefs is simply not a legitimate governmental interest that would support the enactment of speech-abridging regulations."
Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz, who filed a brief on behalf of 10 states that backed Missouri, said that states unwilling to partner with the KKK may "forgo the economic benefits of having volunteers pick up tons of roadside trash each year." The 10 states are Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont.
The case is Rahn v. Robb, 04-629.