U.S. Supreme Court Rules Adult Ordinance OK

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Justices decided Monday that a Colorado city's adult business license ordinance does not violate the First Amendment.

The case involves Z.J. Gifts, which opened an adult bookstore doing business as Christal’s in a section of Littleton, Colo., not zoned for adult businesses. Instead of applying for a license, the company filed suit saying the ordinance violated the First Amendment's free speech provisions.

The Supreme Court was asked to determine what judicial process is constitutionally required in an adult-business licensing case.

In 1993, Littleton passed an ordinance requiring that adult businesses obtain licenses, in effect restricting the possible locations for such businesses.

In 1999, Z.J. Gifts opened what the city characterized as an adult business in an impermissible location.

Prior to opening, the city informed Z.J. Gifts that the location was not an acceptable adult-business location but Z.J. Gifts countered that the business was not an adult business as defined in the ordinance.

Z.J. Gifts filed a civil rights suit, claiming that the ordinance violated Z.J. Gifts' First Amendment rights. Specifically, Z.J. Gifts claimed the ordinance was an improper prior restraint because the ordinance process had a potential indefinite time period.

The U.S. District Court granted the Littleton's motion for summary judgment. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part, determining that the judicial review portion and pre-application requirements of the adult-business ordinance were unconstitutional.

A federal judge ruled for the city, but a federal appeals court panel in Denver said the city's ordinance did not include a provision to ensure a "prompt final judicial decision."

The courts have said the First Amendment requires a licensing scheme to ensure quick judicial review of an administrative denial.

Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said the Littleton ordinance meets the constitutional requirement.

Breyer said that when an ordinance regulates the conditions of an adult business' operation, but does not censor its content, Colorado's normal system of review is adequate.

The case is City of Littleton, Colo., vs. Z.J. Gifts LLC, No. 02-1609.