Tennessee bookstore fights limits on adult businesses

Thursday, March 12, 1998

Richland Bookmart, an adult bookstore in Knox County, Tenn., asked a full panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today to declare a state law unconstitutional that limits when adult businesses can operate.

Late last month a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit determined in Richland Bookmart v. Nichols that recent amendments to the Tennessee Adult-Oriented Establishment Act were constitutional.

These changes in the law include limiting the hours of operation of adult businesses from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, requiring the businesses to be closed on Sundays and holidays, and prohibiting closed booths where patrons can watch sexually explicit videos.

The Legislature determined the law was necessary to combat what it termed the following harmful, secondary effects of adult businesses: “increased crime, downgrading of property values and spread of sexually transmitted and communicable diseases.”

Supporters of the bookstore argued the law violates First Amendment free-expression rights. A federal district court agreed and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting government officials from enforcing the law.

However, the appeals court panel disagreed, finding the law to be a constitutional way to prevent secondary effects. The court wrote: “Reducing crime, open sex and solicitation of sex and preserving the aesthetic and commercial character of the neighborhoods surrounding adult establishments is a 'substantial government interest.' The Tennessee legislature reasonably relied on the experiences of other jurisdictions in restricting the hours of operation.”

The court also emphasized that the law “leaves open alternative avenues of communication” because the adult establishments “may still be open many hours during the week.”

Frierson Graves, attorney for Richland Bookmart, said: “We have a good overbreadth argument in this case, because the bookstore I represent has no peep shows but merely offers adult videos. In fact, many video stores that many people would not classify as so-called adult video stores also offer adult videos.

“The law simply goes too far. Many businesses that the law classifies as adult businesses do not cause neighborhood blight or the other secondary effects emphasized by the Legislature.

“Under the law, city officials are allowed to control too much material under the secondary-effects rationale, which is a lousy excuse for censorship,” he added.