Berger v. Seattle

This court case is completed

ACLU-WA filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit in support of a Seattle street performer. Michael James Berger (aka “Magic Mike") is a street magician who regularly performs magic tricks in Seattle Center. In 2002, Seattle Center enacted new rules that regulated (and essentially limited) the work that street performers could do. Among these rules, street performers were required to apply and pay for an annual permit and wear a city-issued badge while performing; they could only perform in 16 designated spaces in the park, which could only be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis; they were no longer allowed to directly solicit donations; and lastly, they could not perform within 30 feet of a “captive audience.” Mr. Berger sued the city of Seattle on the grounds that these new restrictions violated the First Amendment rights of street performers. The case traveled up to the Ninth Circuit, and on January 9, 2008, two out of three sitting judges ruled in favor of the city, citing that the rules were reasonable. Mr. Berger filed a petition for a rehearing en banc – that is, he filed his case to be heard by all the judges of the Ninth Circuit. ACLU-WA submitted an amicus brief supporting the petition. ACLU-WA staff attorney Aaron Caplan co-authored the brief with cooperating attorneys Amit Ranade, Steven Masada, and Michael Ewart of Perkins Coie. The petition was granted, and on June 24, 2009, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the restrictions on Seattle street performers were unconstitutional.