Haven't we seen this one before?


Clark County workers have been painting -- or re-painting -- white lines on some sidewalks along the Strip. Thereupon they post signs and hand out pamphlets explaining that anyone standing in the marked pedestrian areas while handing out fliers will be considered in violation of a county ordinance against "obstructing" the sidewalks.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has a nasty habit of winning all its court challenges against such efforts, which begin to resemble the determination of a particularly slow pet rodent to bash its head against the walls of its cage. And spokesmen for the ACLU remain unimpressed by the creativity of this latest effort, pointing out the ordinance cited -- Clark County Code 16.11 -- defines obstructive behavior as setting up tables, sleeping on the sidewalk, and so forth -- not handing out literature.

"The idea that you will be arrested for something that isn't in the law is kind of ludicrous," comments Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada.

The targets are not hard to figure out. Visitors often complain about having cards or leaflets pushed in their faces by "smut peddlers" promoting the availability of skimpily clad young women for activities that seem mysterious, since prostitution remains illegal in this county.

The smut peddlers are indeed a nuisance. But efforts to selectively bar these pests from the sidewalks appear doomed under that pesky First Amendment.

"This appears to be a rather clumsy effort to get around the decisions that have come down from the 9th Circuit Court and the Nevada federal District Court," explains Mr. Lichtenstein. "Once again, they've created a content-based rule that will not withstand constitutional scrutiny and will only serve to waste taxpayer money on needless litigation."

What does the gentleman mean by "content-based"? Ines Zak, who was standing in front of Paris Las Vegas last Wednesday, handing out promotional materials for the musical "The Producers" (which is playing at the hotel), said she was told by authorities that she can stand "in front of the white line" so long as her activities are approved by the hotel.

Really? A private hotel gets to decide who can hand out what literature on a public sidewalk?

That would appear the be what Mr. Lichtenstein means by "a content-based rule."

"This scheme will infringe on the free speech rights of a broad array of individuals and organizations, including labor unions, homeless advocates, anti-war demonstrators, and others," says Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU.

If the county continues, either the courts will finally find this conduct sufficiently intransigent to merit a (fully justified) contempt citation, or else a new lawsuit can be expected. The courts will then almost certainly order the county -- once again -- to knock it off.

At which point Mr. Lichtenstein and Mr. Peck will be proved correct, once again: The county will have wasted hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars fighting a fruitless battle against a minor inconvenience that is thoroughly protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

Remember that the next time your county commissioner tells you that there's "no money left" for parks, roads, streetlights, police cars ...

When asked why all this was going on, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she was unaware that the stripes were being painted, or who authorized the painting.

At least you can't call it "organized" crime.

 

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