Ruling favors St. Louis street performers

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 10:05 a.m. CDT; updated 5:46 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis officials will repeal a 16-year-old city ordinance that requires street performers to audition and purchase a $100 permit for the right to ply their trades, a mayor's spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said the city won't appeal U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry's Tuesday ruling blocking enforcement of the ordinance, and that the city intends to repeal it altogether.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the city's street musicians and other performers, contending that the ordinance violates the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution.

ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said most cities don't require a permit and those that do charge far less than St. Louis. He said he couldn't think of another city that requires performers to audition.

"Besides detracting from a creative, vibrant and diverse city, the challenged ordinances are constitutionally defective," Rothert said in a statement. "Artistic expression at public places is protected by the First Amendment. Street performers should not need to get the city's permission to perform on a public sidewalk."

City attorneys countered that the regulations affected only people performing for money and were necessary to balance competing needs on busy city streets.

Perry's injunction also prevents enforcement of geographic limits, meaning that street performers are free to appear at any location in public.

The city has required permits by street performers since 1997. The permit fees rose to $100 last year; they had been $25.

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