The First Amendment Argument for SantaCon
With New York’s drunkest Christmas celebration under threat, one famed civil rights lawyer is fighting for its right to party.
Hundreds of drunk Santas pissing in the gutter, puking onto sidewalks and passing out in the middle of the street. Ms. Santa giving Santa Claus a hand job in the front of a drug store. Welcome to SantaCo, the annual pre-Christmas Manhattan boozefest that has spent the last few years becoming an important tradition for a large cadre of New Yorkers while also developing an image problem. So many locals now dread the day-long celebration of crushed velvet that when SantaCon organizers proposed moving the festivities to Brooklyn this year – in order to limit community outrage – outraged members of the community made it clear Santaswould not be welcome.
Where others saw a neighborhood looking out for its well-being (and avoiding the lingering smell of urine and puke), famed first amendment lawyer Norman Siegel, who most recently defended a nurse being quarantined for Ebola, saw a violation of rights, which is why he decided to help out these wayward Santas, forming an unlikely partnership between a civil liberties crusader and a group of inebriated revelers.
“I’ve been fooled before, and I’ll probably be fooled again,” Siegel told Maxim. “But when I sat down with the organizers of SantaCon, they told me about some serious civil liberties issues they were facing.”
The organizers of SantaCon, who Siegel says wish to remain anonymous and be referred to simply as “Santa,” complained about several violations of their rights, including their right to free expression. Siegel is better known for his defense of Occupy Wall Street protestors and outspoken rappers than pub crawl organizers, but he took the case. “When a neighborhood is telling a group of people that they can’t be there, when they tell them they don’t want to see them on the sidewalks even, then we have a real problem here,” Siegel said.
And the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Unionand Christmas bros are getting along famously.
“You know, whatever happened to having fun in this city?” Siegel asked. “When did it become a crime to have a good time in a safe way? Hopefully in the future, there will be even more communication between the organizers and the city, so the police can be in touch with Santa and give them a place to march, to dance, to have fun.”
But will SantaCon be able to shed its frat party on parade image? Siegel certainly thinks so – and if not, then he’ll make sure its rights are being respected:
“When the MTA says it’s going to ban alcohol from the trains before the event, does that give them the right to search your bags? Just because you’re dressed as Santa Clause? According to the 21st amendment [repeal of prohibition] you’re allowed to carry unopened bottles, like Johnny Walker Red or a six-pack, what have you. What right do they have to look in your bags and confiscate it?”
This Christmas, Norman Siegel is hoping for New Yorker’s to stop playing the Grinch and get down with Santa. Just stay away from drug stores.
Photos by Press Association via AP Images