4th Circuit upholds N.C. strip-club rules

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court has upheld North Carolina's ban on sexually explicit dancing at bars. It's the second time a version of the law has been heard by the court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 15 that the lower court judge erred when he said the state law was too vague. The case is Giovani Carandola v. Fox.

In the court test of an earlier version of the law, in 2002, the 4th Circuit upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge N. Carlton Tilley that the original statute was too broad.

The General Assembly revised the statute, which applies to establishments that serve alcohol and are regulated by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. But Tilley ruled again that provisions banning dance moves that simulate sex acts or the fondling of one's genitals, breasts or buttocks were too vague.

This time the 4th Circuit disagreed with Tilley.

In her opinion, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote that the appeals court concluded “that in context 'simulate' is sufficiently precise to notify persons of ordinary intelligence of the conduct prohibited by the statute.”

The 4th Circuit also found the word “fondle” was clear enough that the prohibition would be generally understood.

The ruling was the latest chapter in a legal battle that began when Christie's Cabaret, a Greensboro strip club, filed a lawsuit challenging the first version of the law in 2001.

After Tilley struck down the first version of the law as unconstitutional, and the 4th Circuit upheld him, the General Assembly revised the statute but kept provisions that banned simulated sex acts or fondling of the breasts, buttocks or genitals. The strip club sued again, and Tilley ruled last year that the law still prohibited protected expression.

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