A Federal Judge is allowing a street performer's lawsuit against Ocean City, Maryland to move forward.In the fall of 2015, eight street performers brought suit against what they believe are unconstitutional provisions within Ocean City's municipal code. For decades, cities across the country have found themselves tied up in legal challenges to ordinances and codes targeting street performers, also known as buskers. Cities like Ocean City argue that they have a right to limit and restrict how street performers beg for money on the streets or boardwalk. Performers argue that prohibitions on busking are unconstitutional because they restrict their right to free expression. The street performers' first two attempts to sue the city failed, mostly due to procedural technicalities. However, on the third filing, a Federal Judge has ruled that the plaintiffs have enough of a case to move to trial. United States District Court Judge William Nickerson wrote in his opinion that the buskers of Ocean City have provided ample evidence to support their claims of violations of their constitutional rights. “It is clear that the plaintiffs’ action arises under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which can be enforced against municipalities through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause,” Judge Nickerson explained.
The case still has to go to trial for a ruling on the merits of the case, but the Judge was clear that the case presents serious free speech issues. In one example, Bill Campion has been performing as a balloon artist on Ocean City's boardwalk for 21 years. For two decades, he was allowed to walk up and down the boardwalk to make his balloon animals for children. Under Ocean City's revised busking ordinance, Campion would be forced to enter a lottery and, if successful, be limited to just one spot on the boardwalk. "He is restricted to one spot where many fans of his work, both parents and children, often cannot find him,” the Judge continued. “The plaintiffs provide numerous examples in the third amended complaint of just how the new ordinances have restricted the performance of their various artistic endeavors. They have further alleged that these restrictions are substantially broader than necessary to achieve Ocean City’s interest. While Ocean City may be able to refute those allegations, at this stage in the proceedings, the court must accept them as true and draw all inferences in the plaintiffs’ favor.” The case will now move forward to trial. It is unlikely that this will be resolved before this year's summer tourism rush. But one way or another, the future and character of the Ocean City boardwalk is now in the hands of a single Federal Judge. What do you think about this fight? Share your comments below!