Renton (City of) v. Playtime Theatres 475 U.S. 41 (1986)

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Renton, Washington, passed a zoning ordinance that prohibited adult theaters from locating within 1,000 feet of any residence, church, park, or school. The owners of two adult theaters filed suit, claiming the ordinance violated the first amendment. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding 7–2 that the ordinance was a constitutional response to the serious social problems created by adult theaters.

Writing for six members of the majority, Justice william h. rehnquist argued that, even though the ordinance was clearly directed at theaters showing a certain kind of film, the law was properly analyzed as a "content neutral" regulation because it was "aimed not at the content of the films shown at 'adult motion picture theatres,' but rather at the secondary effects of such theatres on the surrounding community." According to Rehnquist, because the ordinance left 520 acres of land on which adult theaters could still locate, it represented a valid time, place, and manner regulation of the type upheld by the Court in many other "content neutral" cases. Rehnquist did not dispute that the zoning restriction might impose financial hardship on adult theaters, but said the First Amendment does not compel the state "to ensure that adult theaters, or any other kinds of speech-related businesses … will be able to obtain sites at bargain prices."

In dissent, Justice william j. brennan objected to the majority's classification of the ordinance as "content neutral." But even under that standard, the ordinance was still unconstitutional according to Brennan because it was not narrowly tailored to fit a significant governmental interest.

John G. West, Jr.

(see also: Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.)