Brief Fact Summary. Zoning ordinances adopted by the city of Detroit require that adult theatres be dispersed. Specifically, an adult theatre may not be located within 1,000 feet of any two other “regulated uses” or within 500 feet of a residential area. A theater is classified as “adult” if it is used to present “material distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to Specified Sexual Activities or Specified Anatomical Areas.” These ordinances were amendments to an “Anti-Skid Row Ordinance” which had been adopted 10 years earlier. In the opinion of urban planners and real estate experts who supported the ordinances, the location of several “regulated uses” in the same neighborhood tends to attract an undesirable quantity and quality of transients, adversely affects property values, causes an increase in crime, especially prostitution and encourages residents and businesses to move elsewhere.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A municipality whose regulations do not restrain the market for speech may control the location of adult theaters as well as the location of other commercial establishments.
Issue. Whether the classification in this case is unconstitutional because it turns on content?
Held. The classification in this case is constitutional. Even though the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) 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.
Dissent. The Supreme Court has ignored the rule that requires time, place and manner regulations to be content neutral except in the limited context of a captive or juvenile audience.
Concurrence. This case would have had a different result had the city counsel attempted to bring within the purview of the ordinance theaters that did not contribute to the deterioration of the city.
Discussion. The Supreme Court dealt with the issue of whether the line drawn by the Detroit ordinances is justified by the city’s interest in preserving the character of its neighborhoods. The Supreme Court determined that it should not inquire into the city counsel’s wisdom to require the dispersion of adult theatres. The Supreme Court stated that the city must be given high respect in attempting to find solutions to admittedly serious social problems. The Supreme Court reached this conclusion given the fact that the city counsel did not attempt to entirely remove adult film from its city, but, rather did nothing more than place a limitation upon where such films may be exhibited.