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Court Backs Colo. City’s Adult Ordinance

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a Colorado city’s adult business licensing ordinance, but said that companies turned down for permits must be given quick review in courts.

The court refused, however, to specify how speedy the reviews must be.

Justice Stephen Breyer said that Colorado courts seem ready to “prevent significant harm to First Amendment interests” of store owners.

“Of course those denied licenses in the future remain free to raise special problems of undue delay in individual cases as the ordinance is applied,” Breyer wrote for the court.

All nine justices agreed with at least part of the decision, a victory for the city of Littleton, Colo., and the 15 states that supported the Denver suburb’s appeal: Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Vermont.

Background: An adult bookstore opened in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. But instead of seeking a license under the city’s adult-business licensing ordinance, the owners of Z.J. Gifts went to court to challenge the ordinance on its face, claiming it violated the First Amendment. A federal judge rejected the owners’ claims, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the owners in part. Recognizing the First Amendment harm that is done when government delays or restricts free expression, the appeals court said the city’s procedures did not guarantee a prompt judicial decision on zoning appeals when license applications were rejected. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case to resolve a dispute among lower courts over whether its past precedents require a prompt judicial decision in a case like Z.J.’s, or merely that prompt access to the courts is required.
 

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