Justices to Rule on Porn-Shop Licensing

Times Staff Writer

The Supreme Court, pondering one of the new tactics devised by cities to crack down on sexually oriented businesses, said Monday it would decide whether adult bookstores and theaters can be required to obtain operating licenses that can be denied or revoked on an assortment of grounds.

In recent years, many cities have used zoning laws to move X-rated businesses away from residential areas and business centers, a tactic upheld by the Supreme Court three years ago.

Now, some local governments are trying to go further and use licensing requirements to screen out some businesses entirely without having to prove in a trial that their publications or films are legally obscene.

On Monday, the justices said they would review an ordinance passed by the Dallas city council in 1986 that requires licenses for “sexually oriented businesses,” and lists prior misdemeanor convictions for owners on sex crimes, prostitution or obscenity as among the grounds for rejection.


‘Prior Restraint’

With all but about 10 of the city’s 120 adult bookstores, theaters and other businesses expected to be shut down under the regulations, more than a dozen of the owners called on the Supreme Court to throw out the law on grounds that it is a “prior restraint” on free speech, a violation of the First Amendment.

A federal judge and an appellate court have upheld the ordinance in earlier reviews, ruling that these businesses are a public nuisance, tend to promote crime and could be regulated through licenses. The high court will hear the cases, FW/PBS vs. Dallas, 87-2012, and MJR vs. Dallas, 87-2051, in the fall.

In other actions Monday, the court:


--Let stand a federal appellate court ruling in a California case that says the police may not arrest a bank robbery suspect until he makes “actual movement” toward the bank. The decision frees Reginald Still, who was convicted of trying to rob a Roseville, Calif., bank in 1985. Responding to a tip, police apprehended him in a van 200 feet from a Security Pacific branch, along with a blond wig and a hold-up note. “You caught me five minutes before I was going to rob a bank,” he told the officer.

Nevertheless, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco threw out his conviction last year because Still had not made an “actual movement” toward the bank. U.S. prosecutors appealed, contending this rule “needlessly puts at risk the lives of innocent bank customers, employees and law enforcement officers.” But with dissenting votes only by Justices Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun, the court denied the appeal. (U.S. vs. Still, 88-581)

--Refused without comment to hear an appeal from New York so-called subway vigilante Bernhard H. Goetz, who claimed he was denied a fair trial. In 1984, Goetz, a white electronics engineer, shot four black youths on a subway after they demanded $5 from him. Three years later, he was tried and convicted of illegal possession of a hand gun. (Goetz vs. New York, 88-1122).