A Dubious Distinction

Don’t you just hate when Las Vegas is featured on those “worst in the country” lists? Well, brace yourselves, because one local agency recently received a similar type of “honor” for its blatant disregard of the First Amendment.

On April 13, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, a nonprofit organization with ties to the prestigious University of Virginia, included the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on its annual list of “Muzzle Award” recipients. Given out every year to individuals and government agencies who censor speech in ways both upsetting and ridiculous, the Muzzles are like the public policy equivalent of acting’s most famous non-award, the Razzies.

So why, exactly, does Metro merit this recognition? It’s all about Elvis, naturally.

The ACLU of Nevada’s ongoing fight to let musicians, Elvis impersonators, and other street performers exercise their First Amendment rights on the Las Vegas Strip caught the attention of the Thomas Jefferson Center, who were as shocked as the rest of us that local law enforcement would consistently harass performers on what has been clearly established as a public sidewalk.

Negotiations in the case are ongoing, and we hope that Metro will ultimately recognize and protect the First Amendment on the Strip. In the meantime, the Muzzle Awards, which received mention in publications as large as the Washington Post, are a sad reminder that sometimes what happens in Vegas…is regarded with grim bemusement by everyone else.

The ACLU Goes Shooting!

As one of the few ACLU affiliates to affirmatively support the Second Amendment, all of us at the ACLU of Nevada have respect for responsible gun owners, and we often work with gun rights advocates on issues of common concern.

Just the other week, our good friend Robert Johnson from Gun Owners of Nevada invited us to try our hand at shooting. Staff Attorney Maggie McLetchie and I made the trip out to Boulder City and, I’ll be honest, as two people who had never used a gun before, we didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping that I’d at least hit the target!

After a comprehensive lesson on firearm types and safety protocols, we were each set up with a .22 caliber gun.  Maggie was up first:

Her first shot was nearly dead center! The guns we used were relatively quiet and did not kick back into your shoulder as we expected they would. After Maggie’s round was done, it was my turn. I was nervous, but I tried to focus on the target and remember Robert’s tips about breathing and properly holding the gun.

Success! My shots were quite close together for a beginner, and as the lesson progressed I became more comfortable holding the gun and reloading the ammunition. For both of us, apprehension quickly turned into excitement about learning a new skill.

We hope to go out again soon with Robert to practice some more and further improve our marksmanship. Given that summer is fast approaching and it gets pretty darn hot out in the desert, I suspect it will need to be an early-morning excursion.

As someone who had never touched a gun before this experience, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with them under the tutelage of an experienced teacher. As Americans we have the right to bear arms, but we also have a duty to exercise that right responsibly. 

The best part? Maggie and I have found a new hobby!

Phil Hooper is the ACLU of Nevada's Program Coordinator and Las Vegas Office Manager.

Immigration Reform, ACLU-Style

Hello Readers! We've got a LOT going on this week, including our work on the Personhood ballot initiative case. Check out our Facebook page (the link is on the right side of this page) for the latest updates--and become a fan if you haven't already!).

In the meantime, a variation on last week's theme: the rights of immigrants. Our own Rebecca Gasca has some thoughts on comprehensive immigration reform from an ACLU perspective. In 3...2...1...


Most Americans would agree that our immigration system is in tatters. Here at the ACLU of Nevada, we support responsible and comprehensive reforms to U.S. immigration policy that protects the civil liberties of everyone- regardless of their immigration status.

Last year, Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced legislation that proposed many meaningful reforms to the immigration system. However, it fell short from our perspective in two ways: it did not extend the same protections to lesbian and gay couples as their heterosexual counterparts, and it required the implementation of a privacy-invading electronic employment verification system (that even the US Government admits is flawed) for all workers (not just immigrants).

More recently, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced their own framework for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), which includes, among other things, mandatory biometric Social Security cards for all Americans.

The ACLU, however, views both biometric Social Security cards and electronic employment verification systems as attacks on our constitutionally-protected right to privacy. Both would essentially require every worker, including US citizens, to obtain a “permission slip” from the federal government in order to work. They are costly, invasive, and are thinly veiled disguises of systems that lay the groundwork for a comprehensive national identification card.

We have also long opposed mandatory electronic verification systems for privacy reasons and for their adverse impact the error-filled records in government databases would have on all workers. On these grounds during our 2009 legislative session, the ACLU of Nevada submitted written testimony and testified against Assembly Bill 431, which would have required some employers to verify the immigration status of workers before hiring them.

As civil libertarians, we believe that a comprehensive solution does for this problem does exist- but it can’t come at the price of cherished fundamental liberties and privacy protections.


Rebecca Gasca is the Public Advocate for the ACLU of Nevada

Effective Legal Counsel for ALL

It’s a great day for civil rights! In a 7-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court just declared that criminal attorneys MUST advise their non-citizen clients about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. In a society that is supposed to require effective legal counsel for those accused of crimes, this just makes sense. Here’s some expert analysis from ACLU of Nevada board member and local immigration attorney, Peter Ashman:


Today, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Padilla v. Kentucky that criminal defense lawyers must advise their noncitizen clients about the risk of deportation if they accept a guilty plea. The Court recognized that current immigration laws impose harsh and mandatory deportation consequences onto criminal convictions, and that Congress eliminated from these laws the Attorney General's discretionary authority to cancel removal in meritorious cases. The Court said, "These changes to our immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen's criminal conviction. The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important."

This case involved a Vietnam War veteran who has resided lawfully in the U.S. for over 40 years. His criminal defense lawyer told him not to worry about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime because of the length of time Padilla had resided in the U.S., but that advice was wrong. In fact, the guilty plea made Mr. Padilla subject to mandatory deportation from the United States. The state of Kentucky said that Mr. Padilla had no right to withdraw his plea when he learned of the deportation consequence. Today's decision reverses the Kentucky court. It also rejected the federal government's position (which had been adopted by several courts) that a noncitizen is protected only from "affirmative misadvice" and not from a lawyer's failure to provide any advice about the immigration consequences of a plea. Nevada has long ago adopted the "collateral consequence" position advanced unsuccessfully by the State of Kentucky. (Barajas v. State, 115 Nev. 440, 991 P.2d 474 (1999)

The right to counsel is at the very core of our criminal justice system. The Court affirms that immigrants have the right to challenge plea agreements when they rely on incorrect advice from their lawyers or where counsel fails to provide any immigration advice at all, if they can also show prejudice. Today's decision also reminds us that ultimately, the increased criminalization of immigration law and lack of flexibility has resulted in harsh results. Congress should do its part to restore immigration judges' discretion to consider the particular circumstances in a person's case, thus affording each person facing deportation an individualized and fair opportunity to be heard.


If you are an attorney and want to learn more about what this means for you, please check the ACLU of Nevada website for information about possible trainings. For more info about our organization’s work on immigrants’ rights, visit http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/.

Emmily's Reason

Here are some thoughts from ACLU of Nevada friend and client Emmily Bristol, who participated in our recent lawsuit challenging the "personhood" ballot initiative in Nevada:

Why do I support the ACLU?

I keep a post card above my desk that has a picture of a pencil on it and reads, “This machine kills fascists.” Indeed, I can’t think of a more important freedom than that of free speech. The free exchange of ideas – even when we disagree – is the backbone of America.

Think about it: The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is one of the most amazing and American rights we have and one I hold very dear as a writer. You don’t have to search very hard to find examples of people who do not have the right to speak their own thoughts publicly, write them down or share them with others openly. And this is not a long-ago plight but one of modern times in countries near and far. And yes, even in our own backyard sometimes.

This is why I support the ACLU. This is why the ACLU is one of the most patriotic, fundamentally American organizations in our great country.

Being an American and having these freedoms is not easy. We have to participate in our own freedom. We have to be knowledgeable. We have to fight with each other at times. It’s messy! But these freedoms are worth the messy, amazing struggle.

If you think of the Bill of Rights as the Bible of our uniquely American freedoms – which is not such a far-out analogy considering that there have been many interpretations and arguments over the meaning of those rights over the years – then the ACLU are guardians of those rights.

One of the reasons why I respect the ACLU is because they fight the good fight for everyone. Their agenda is singular: Defend American rights. They don’t pick sides in controversial debates. They represent equally the First Amendment rights of the drama department at Green Valley High School, white supremacist groups, brothel workers and union protestors. It is a mighty thing to set aside your own personal opinions to fight for the rights of all Americans.

And perhaps that’s the greatest lesson that the ACLU can still give us all – to lead by example. We didn’t get these freedoms easily. And when we stop paying attention, they can be all too easily chipped away. It’s good to know that there is an organization like the ACLU who will always be keeping watch and reminding us to pay attention.


Emmily Bristol is a journalist, activist, and the voice behind an awesome blog of her own, The Sin City Siren. Check it out!


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