ACLU of Nevada Files Suit Protecting First Amendment Rights of Singer and Elvis Impersonator along Strip

On July 9, 2009, the ACLU of Nevada filed a complaint to enforce and protect the First Amendment rights of street performers, also known as buskers, along the Las Vegas Strip. The complaint alleges that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is excluding street performers from the sidewalks along the Strip, a public forum where First Amendment activity is protected. The police are using inapplicable and unconstitutional county codes and state laws to remove the street performers, in violation of the free speech, due process, and equal protection provisions of both the United States and Nevada Constitutions.

Plaintiff Suzette “Suze” Banasik is a street performer who plays guitar and sings on the Strip. She has been ticketed and arrested by Metro officers for various claimed violations ranging from begging/soliciting alms to operating a business without a license.

“I know what I’m doing is perfectly legal,” said Ms. Banasik. “I’m not asking anyone for money. I’m singing and if people want to leave money they can.”

Plaintiff William Jablonski has also been harassed by Metro officers when he ventures out on the sidewalks of the Strip dressed as Elvis Presley. Mr. Jablonski likes bringing joy to tourists by impersonating Elvis and posing for pictures with them. Metro has routinely harassed Mr. Jablonski.

“Personal artistic expression is protected by the First Amendment. The sidewalks along the Las Vegas Strip are a public forum and these street performers have the right be there just like anybody else,” said Staff Attorney Maggie McLetchie. “Singing and impersonating Elvis are not crimes.”

The ACLU of Nevada has litigated a number of cases involving the Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street Experience establishing that those areas are public forums where First Amendment activity is protected.

“It is unfortunate that, after over a decade of litigation, officials continue to violate the First Amendment,” said Ms. McLetchie. “It does not matter whether the land under the sidewalks happens to be privately owned or not. It is a public space.”

Ms. Banasik and Mr. Jablonski are pictured above.