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High Court OKs Zoning to Limit Adult Theaters

February 25, 1986|United Press International

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today gave cities wide authority to limit the spread of adult theaters, ruling 7 to 2 that such establishments may be limited to a specific area of town no matter how undesirable the location.

The decision in the case from Renton, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, expanded on a 1976 ruling in a case from Detroit that said cities could limit the number of adult theaters in one area.

"The Renton ordinance, like the one in (the Detroit case), does not ban adult theaters altogether, but merely provides that such theaters may not be located within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, single- or multiple-family dwelling, church, park or school," Justice William H. Rehnquist said, writing for the majority.

Two Justices Dissent

In dissent, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall, called the ordinance unconstitutional because it "discriminates on its face against certain forms of speech based on content."

The court's action comes one day after it struck down a measure from Indianapolis that sought to fight pornography by defining it as discrimination against women. (Story on Page 7.)

The adult theater case was an appeal of a November, 1984, ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court that struck down the Renton ordinance as an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment rights of theater owners.

Playtime Theatres Inc., which challenged the ordinance, accused the city of Renton of relegating adult theaters to an area of just 520 acres in "the most unattractive, undesirable, economically unviable areas of the city without articulating . . . a unique problem associated with such businesses which requires such drastic measures."

'Pretext for Suppression'

"Courts must be alert to the possibility of cities using the zoning power as a pretext for suppressing expression," Playtime's attorneys told the justices.

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