Editor's note: The Associated Press reported Sept. 28 that South Carolina's attorney general would not appeal the federal court ruling.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina law limiting the placement of billboards advertising adult businesses is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled late last week.
U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie on Aug. 13 also issued a permanent injunction preventing state officials from taking down billboards belonging to the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore in Orangeburg County.
In 2006, the Legislature passed a law banning billboards advertising adult-oriented businesses within a mile of public roads. The law, which took effect in February 2006, gave businesses three years to comply.
As that deadline approached, the owner of the Lion’s Den filed a federal lawsuit against the Legislature. Attorneys for the erotic bookstore with four billboards along Interstates 26 and 95, in the heavily traveled thoroughfares between Columbia and Charleston, said the law violated the business’s right to free speech and “operates as an unconstitutional prior restraint on the dissemination of constitutionally protected expression.”
Attorney General Henry McMaster represented the state in this lawsuit. In documents filed last week, his office argued the signs could distract teenagers and other drivers, as well as young children who may not understand what they’re seeing out the car window.
“It is not unreasonable to believe that billboards along a highway cause many children to be exposed to sexually oriented businesses before they have the maturity to understand what they see or may be told in explanation of what they see,” McMaster wrote.
A spokesman for McMaster’s office said the ruling did not come as a surprise and that it was not clear if it would be appealed.
An attorney for the Lion’s Den did not return a message seeking comment in time for this story. A manager at the store referred comment to the company’s Ohio headquarters, where a phone message was not returned in time for this story.
Currie’s ruling mirrors one issued in Kansas, where a federal judge last week approved an agreement ending a lawsuit over a similar statute. Under the settlement, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six agreed the state would not enforce a law limiting the size and contents of signs within a mile of a highway.