Supreme Court Roundup: Decisions on Adult Business, Cyberspeech, Telecommunications

Article excerpt

Adult Business: City of Los Angeles v. Alameda Books and Highland Books

The US. Supreme Court recently held that local officials may bar two adult businesses from operating at a single location.

The high court in a 5-4 vote held that cities may use their zoning power to allow only one such business in a particular location.

Writing for the court in City of Los Angeles v. Alameda Books and Highland Books, (No. 00-799) Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said common sense alone was enough to justify the city's regulation.

Many studies, including one in Hollywood in 1977, showed that street crime is highest in areas where adult businesses were concentrated, she said. City officials acted reasonably when they refused to "allow an adult-oriented-department store to replace a strip of adult establishments," she said.

As has been the case in other adult business regulation cases of recent years, however, there is no single opinion that obtained five votes (the plurality opinion, by Justice O'Connor, received four votes, with the deciding vote cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who concurred in the judgment but did not join the plurality opinion). Thus, the case does not provide a clear precedent for adult business regulation.

The consequence of the Court's disposition of the case will therefore presumably be a full trial in the federal district court.

Siding with the city along with O'Connor were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Kennedy concurred in the result.

The four dissenters said the ordinance amounts to discrimination against a type of expression, not a true regulation of crime.

Cyberspeech: Ashcroft v. Civil Liberties Union

A majority of the Supreme Court expressed serious doubt that a federal law intended to protect minors from sexual images on the World Wide Web could be upheld as written, and the justices unanimously barred the government from enforcing the law until its constitutionality is settled.

In a fragmented ruling in Ashcroft v. Civil Liberties Union, (No. 00-1293) the court held that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) does not violate the First Amendment merely because it creates a national standard for judging pornographic material, but the justices upheld a bar on the law's enforcement until a lower court considers other arguments against the act.

The main split in the court occurred between five justices who believe that the statute might be constitutional and three justices who appear to believe that it is not but who argue that the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals erred in overturning the law on the grounds that it imposed "community standards" upon Web publishers. …