WASHINGTON — States are free to close down for lengthy periods of time adult bookstores found to be public nuisances because of the on-premises conduct of their patrons, the Supreme Court ruled today.
The court, winding up its 1985-86 term, upheld on a 6-3 vote a New York law that allows closure for one year of any premise, including bookstores, found to be a public nuisance.
The court, led by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, said the law does not violate constitutionally protected freedom-of-expression rights when applied to bookstores because it does not seek to censor or control the books sold there.
Conduct, Not Books
"The legislation providing the closure sanction was directed at unlawful conduct having nothing to do with books or other expressive activity," Burger said.
A bookstore in the Buffalo suburb of Kenmore was charged with being a public nuisance after an undercover deputy sheriff witnessed various sex acts in the store in 1982.
The deputy, in a sworn statement, said he was solicited for sexual conduct and saw customers masturbating and committing fellatio.
Village Books and News in Kenmore had been the target of an investigation by the Erie County Sheriff's office.
The county's attorney went to court seeking to end the nuisance, but the prosecution never has gone to trial.
In another case today, the court significantly broadened the disciplinary powers of public school administrators, ruling that students may be suspended for using "vulgar and offensive" language.
By a 7-2 vote, the court upheld the three-day suspension in 1983 of a Spanaway, Wash., high school senior for giving an assembly speech filled with crude sexual allusions.
"Surely it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse," Chief Justice Burger wrote for the court.
Matthew Fraser's one-minute speech in support of a friend's candidacy for student body vice president of Bethel High School contained no dirty words, but it caused a brief uproar among his fellow students.
In the address, Fraser described his friend as "a man who is firm--he's firm in his pants . . . his character is firm . . . a man who will go to the very end, even the climax, for each and every one of you."
His friend won the election by a wide margin.