ST. LOUIS A 2-year-old state law banning sexually suggestive billboards along Missouri highways is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court panel ruled yesterday.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned a U.S. District Court's ruling earlier this year that banning such billboards within a mile of state highways was a constitutional regulation of commercial speech.
The law, which took effect August 2004, sought to reduce the possible negative effects posed by sexually suggestive billboards, including harming minors, reducing traffic safety and lowering property values.
But the 8th Circuit panel ruled in Passions Video Inc. v. Nixon that the Missouri statute had no such effect.
The ruling said the law was not "narrowly drawn" to meet those goals, and the state "failed to make a showing that a more limited speech regulation would not have adequately served the state's interest."
Passions Video Inc., an adult book store; Gala Entertainment Inc., a Kansas City strip club; and the Lion's Den adult stores filed the suit last year against Attorney General Jay Nixon. John Haltom, an adult-business owner with 10 stores that sell lingerie, sex toys and adult videos in six states, also sued the state.
The state will seek a rehearing from the full 8th Circuit, and if unsuccessful, might appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Nixon spokesman John Fougere said.
Messages left with attorneys for the adult businesses that filed the suit were not returned in time for this story.
The law would have forced the adult-business owners and others with sexually suggestive billboards near highways to take them down by mid-2007. Billboard advertising companies have refused to allow new sexy billboards to go up since the 2004 law.
State Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, spearheaded the legislation, modeling it after a similar law upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The law eventually would have allowed an adult-oriented business located within a mile of a highway to have just two signs one showing the business' name and operating hours, the other noting it is off-limits to minors.
House Speaker Rod Jetton called the 8th Circuit's ruling "unfortunate."
"It leaves Missourians of every age exposed to sleazy billboards along our highways," Jetton said in a statement. "Billboards like these are distasteful, unnecessary distractions that pose a real threat to highway safety and give children and adults the wrong impression about what quality entertainment really is."
If the attorney general was not successful in appealing the ruling, Jetton said, the Legislature would work to correct the problem "so Missourians have the protections a law like this provides."