BISMARCK, N.D. — The city of Mandan may ban exotic dancers from performing in bars and restrict adult businesses to certain city districts, the North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled.
The court rejected claims by the owners of the Tree City Bar and the Silver Dollar Bar that Mandan ordinances adopted almost four years ago violated their free-speech rights and took their property without compensation.
Both bars, which are located near each other on Mandan’s Main Street, featured strippers for more than a decade before the new city rules took effect.
Rumors that a Mandan businessman was going to open a third strip bar downtown prodded the City Commission to adopt ordinances in June 2003 to regulate them, court documents say.
In a unanimous opinion Feb. 28, the state Supreme Court concluded the regulations were reasonable and did not prohibit the bars from doing business.
“The ordinances merely prohibit [the bars’ owners] from offering exotic dancing in an establishment that serves alcohol,” Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle wrote. “As we have concluded, they have no constitutional right to offer exotic dancing in a bar.”
The Mandan ordinances say strippers may not perform where booze is served. Stages must be at least six feet away from any public area, and strippers are barred from accepting tips directly from customers.
Applicants for cabaret licenses and performers in the businesses must disclose any criminal convictions they have had within the past five years, the rules say. They restrict adult-entertainment establishments to areas zoned for industrial business.
Mandan residents endorsed the regulations in November 2003, with 76% of the voters supporting the ordinances. Both the Tree City and the Silver Dollar are still in business, albeit without strippers. The ordinances forced an adult bookstore to relocate within Mandan.
The owners of the two bars sued in June 2005, claiming the ordinances violated their constitutional rights. After hearing attorneys’ arguments in February 2006, South Central District Judge Robert Wefald dismissed their complaints. The Supreme Court’s Feb. 28 ruling upheld Wefald’s decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said nude dancing is “expressive conduct,” covered by the First Amendment’s free-speech protections.
However, local governments may regulate adult businesses to keep them away from residential areas, schools, libraries and churches. One of the Mandan ordinances linked regulation of strip bars to efforts to halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and discourage illegal drug use.
“Although motivating factors for the enactment of the ordinances may have included moral aversion to adult establishments, and the prevention of another adult establishment locating on Mandan’s Main Street, the City Commission minutes and the commissioners’ subsequent findings do not reflect that these were the primary factors,” the Supreme Court’s decision says.