Respondents, operators of two adult motion picture theaters, were located within 1000 feet of two other regulated uses defined by the Detroit ordinances. The respondents brought two actions against city officials, alleging that the ordinances were unconstitutional.
The First Amendment places limitations on the States’ power to enforce their laws.
Zoning ordinances adopted by the city of Detroit differentiate between motion picture theaters which exhibit sexually explicit adult movies and those which do not. Instead of concentrating adult theaters in limited zones, these ordinances require that such theaters be dispersed. Specifically, an adult theater may not be located within 1,000 feet of any two other “regulated uses” or within 500 feet of a residential area. Regulated uses includes 10 different kinds of establishments in addition to adult theaters. If the theater is used to present material distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing, or relating to specified sexual activities, it is an adult establishment.
Does the zoning ordinances that differentiate between motion picture theaters which exhibit sexually explicit adult movies and those which do not violate the Constitution?
No, what is at stake is nothing more than a limitation on the place where adult films may be exhibited. Thus, even though the determination of whether a particular film fits that characterization turns on the nature of its content, the city’s interest in the present and future character of its neighborhoods adequately supports its classification of motion pictures.
Adult status depends on whether the theater is used for presenting films that are distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on certain specified activities, including sexual intercourse. I am at a loss to know that he will tell whether they are distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on those areas and activities. The ordinance gives him no guidance. Neither does it instruct him on how to tell whether his theater is being used for presenting such films. The Court cannot approve the suppression without any judicial finding that they are obscene under this Court’s carefully delineated and considered standards.
The ordinance does not impose any content limitation on the creators of adult movies or their ability to make them available to whom they desire nor does it restrict in any significant way the viewing of these movies by those who desire to see them. At most the impact of the ordinance on these interests is incidental and minimal. Detroit has silenced no message, has invoked no censorship, and has imposed no limitation upon those who wish to view them.
Even though the First Amendment will not tolerate the total suppression of erotic materials that have some arguably artistic value, it is manifest that society’s interest in protecting this type of expression is of a wholly different, ans lesser, magnitude than the interest in untrammeled political debate. Whether political oratory or philosophical discussion moves us to applaud or to despise what is said, every school child can understand why our duty to defend the right to speak remains the same. But few of use wold march our children off to war to preserve the citizen’s right to see specified sexual activities exhibited in the theaters of our choice. Though the First Amendment protects communication in this area from total suppression, the State may legitimately use the content of these materials as the basis for placing them in a different classification from other motion pictures. The record shows that this kind of restriction at issue will have the desired effect. Thus, the Detroit ordinances shall be upheld.