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What safeguards must a city licensing law have with respect to adult bookstores and related businesses?

The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that city licensing laws must contain some procedural safeguards in order to guard against censorship. In its 1990 decision FW/PBS v. City of Dallas, the high court said that a licensing scheme for adult businesses must contain two such safeguards:

  • The decision to issue or deny a license must be made within a “specified and reasonable time period.”
  • “There must be the possibility of prompt judicial review in the event that the license is erroneously denied.”


Can a city completely prohibit adult-entertainment businesses from operating?

No. But a city may enact reasonable zoning measures that relegate adult businesses to a certain area or areas of town. Similarly, a city may zone adult businesses by dispersing them throughout a city.

Cities may also pass restrictions that regulate how live entertainment is performed. For example, courts have allowed cities to require nude dancers to wear at least some clothing during their performances.

But a city may not completely prohibit adult entertainment. In its 1981 decision Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a town in New Jersey could not ban live adult performance dancing within its borders. “By excluding live entertainment throughout the Borough, the Mount Ephraim ordinance prohibits a wide range of expression that has long been held to be within the protections of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the high court wrote.

The Supreme Court distinguished between a zoning law that restricted the location of adult businesses and a law that completely prohibited certain types of expressive conduct.



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