The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take a fresh look at how far cities may go to limit sexually oriented businesses.
The court will study a Dallas zoning and licensing ordinance challenged by owners of adult bookstores, motion picture theaters, nightclubs, motels and nude-model studios.The challengers say the law violates their freedom of expression.
Last week, in an Indiana case, the high court ruled that states may use anti-racketeering laws to crack down on pornography. But in that case the court also ruled that businesses dealing with sexually explicit materials may not be shut down before a judicial determination that at least some of the materials are obscene.
The 1986 Dallas ordinance requires that sexually oriented businesses be at least 1,000 feet apart and at least 1,000 feet from any church, school, residential area or park.
Any existing business in violation of the regulation has three years to move or shut down.
The businesses also are required to obtain a license issued by the chief of police and must permit inspection of their premises during operating hours.
Also, the ordinance bars anyone convicted of a variety of crimes, such as promotion of prostitution, from operating a sexually oriented business. And it requires that viewing rooms in adult theaters be open to permit surveillance by management.
The regulations also bar motel owners from renting rooms for less than 10 hours, a provision designed to discourage prostitution.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last February that the ordinance is a legitimate attack on crime, urban blight and declining property values.
The appeals court noted that the Supreme Court in 1986 upheld a somewhat similar ordinance in Renton, Wash., restricting the location of adult theaters.
Operators of adult entertainment outlets in Dallas said the regulations in the Texas city are much stricter. They said dozens of businesses will be forced to shut down because at least 106 establishments must relocate and there are only 50 available locations.
But the 5th Circuit court said the Dallas ordinance does not violate free speech or other rights protected by the Constitution.
The City Council's "consideration of the criminal effects of concentrated sexually oriented businesses was thorough, as was its review of the effects such concentrations have on property values," the appeals court said. "In short, Dallas has demonstrated that the ordinance furthers a substantial government interest."
The appeals court also said the city demonstrated "a compelling justification" for its licensing requirements even though a less-strict standard would be adequate to uphold the regulations.
For example, "The city need only show that (a criminal) conviction and the evil to be regulated bear a substantial relationship," the appeals court said.
It added that the discretion given the police chief under the ordinance to issue, suspend and revoke licenses is not impermissibly broad.
The appeals court also rejected arguments that the city ordinance violates privacy rights by insisting that establishments offering sexually oriented entertainment be open to inspection by authorities without search warrants.
In other action, the court:
- Agreed to decide whether the rights of white criminal defendants may be violated when blacks are excluded from serving as jurors in their trials.
- Turned down a challenge to his conviction by Bernhard Goetz, who in 1984 shot four young men he said were going to rob him on a New York City subway.
- Refused to revive an affirmative action program in South Bend, Ind., that called for hiring more blacks and Hispanics as firefighters and police officers.
- Rejected "reverse discrimination" arguments by a white Vallejo, Calif., firefighter denied a promotion that went to a black man with a slightly lower test score.
- Let stand a ruling that someone who plans a bank robbery but is arrested before actually moving toward the bank may not be convicted of violating a federal law prohibiting attempted bank robbery.
- Turned down appeals by former Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., and former Brooklyn, N.Y., Democratic boss Meade Esposito aimed at overturning their convictions for exchanging illegal gratuities.>