A proposed Los Angeles County anti-pornography ordinance that has sharply divided feminist and civil rights activists would probably be declared unconstitutional, county lawyers said Friday.
In a lengthy analysis prepared for Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, County Counsel DeWitt Clinton and Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla said the ordinance, which would define pornography as sex discrimination and give women broad powers to file lawsuits to block publication and distribution of materials they find degrading, would be an impairment of free speech and impermissibly vague.
"The proposed ordinance . . . represents an effort to establish an as yet judicially unrecognized constitutional right," the report said.
The ordinance was proposed last month by the county Commission for Women and taken under consideration by the Board of Supervisors, triggering a heated debate among women's leaders and civil liberties activists.
Pornography would be declared "the graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women" in pictures or words, particularly when it portrays them as submissive, "dehumanized" sex objects or in acts of sexual violence.
Similar Indianapolis Law Struck Down
The ordinance is modeled after an Indianapolis law that was struck down as unconstitutional in federal court last year.
"I'm so glad the county counsel's office has kept its legal mind intact," said Susan McGreivy, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who had attacked the measure as a dangerous limitation on free speech.
The ACLU had been joined by a coalition of feminist groups in opposing the ordinance, claiming it could backfire and be used by conservative groups to block feminist publications.
However, supporters of the ordinance vowed to press their fight before the supervisors next week.
"I'm very disappointed," said Betty Rosenstein, a member of the county Women's Commission. She insisted that the legal issues are not as clear-cut as the staff report suggests and the supervisors have an opportunity to take a pioneering stand for women.
"The eyes of the country are upon them," she said.
The staff report clearly will make approval of the ordinance politically more difficult for the supervisors, several of whom had expressed support for the concept of toughening anti-pornography laws when commission members presented the proposal.