Va. can strip liquor from gentlemen’s clubs

Friday, July 23, 2010

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A Virginia law prohibiting strip clubs from serving mixed drinks does not violate the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled recently.

Under state law, the clubs could serve beer and wine but not mixed drinks because the state concluded that mixed drinks could lead to more-intoxicated patrons, which in turn might lead to more crime.

Three nightclubs featuring women dancing in g-strings and pasties challenged the mixed-drink ban, contending that state officials failed to show that granting mixed-drink licenses would lead to further harmful impact or secondary effects. The clubs — two Papermoon establishments in Richmond and one in Springfield — pointed out that they had offered mixed drinks in 2007 when the state was prohibited from enforcing its ban because of another lawsuit.

Subsequently, the state amended the law and reinstated the ban on mixed drinks at strip clubs. The three clubs sued in federal court on First Amendment grounds. In 2008, a federal district court rejected their claims against the ban.

The clubs appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed in its July 15 opinion in Imaginary Images, Inc. v. Evans. The clubs presented evidence by Professor Daniel Linz of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who found that the clubs did not produce more crime when they served mixed drinks.

However, the three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit was not persuaded and upheld the state law. “Virginia has a legitimate interest in reducing the chances of a person leaving a strip club intoxicated by eliminating the sale of distilled spirits and it could further legitimately believe that this modest step could reduce the harmful secondary effects surrounding such establishments,” the panel wrote.

The clubs contended that the state had failed to show empirical proof that the drinking of distilled spirits at the clubs led to greater crime. But the 4th Circuit said that didn’t matter, writing that “we disagree that empirical support is needed for the perfectly sensible legislative proposition that someone drinking liquor at a strip club will get more intoxicated” than someone drinking beer and wine.

The panel also said that the proper way to challenge Virginia’s policy against mixing liquor and strippers was through the democratic process, what the court termed “the whole clamorous drama of democracy that leads to the enactment of the given law.”

Finally, the panel expressed reluctance to strike down a government policy that it characterized as a moderate and temperate response to a perceived problem.

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