November 10, 1999 12:00pm
Supreme Court Ponders Nude Dancing
Source: Free Speech X-press
by: Kat Sunlove
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- The Supreme Court toured the far reaches of free-speech law Wednesday as it pondered the degree to which nude dancing is protected by the Constitution.
"Nude entertainment has become a significant staple of the American scene... 3,000 adult clubs nationwide," lawyer John Weston contended as he attacked a public-indecency ordinance in Erie, Pa., that requires women who work as barroom dancers to wear at least pasties and a G-string.
Some justices voiced doubts. Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested that some forms of nude dancing "have as much to do with expression as turning a mouse loose in a house. You are intending to get a reaction, not to express something."
Weston, representing the owner of a now-closed bar that featured nude dancers, argued that the 1994 Erie ordinance was aimed specifically at such establishments, and not at public nudity. That makes a constitutional difference, he said.
Justice David H. Souter seemed to agree when he said the ordinance "as applied ... is not covering all nudity" and may be guilty of making content-based distinctions. But Erie city lawyer Gregory Karle said the ordinance sought only to impose the same restrictions as those approved in the 1991 Barnes decision.
The courtroom session was lively. Justice Antonin Scalia wondered aloud whether the ordinance would be enforced against someone appearing in public while "in the buff." Karle said that the Pennsylvania law only bans public nudity if it is intended to sexually arouse someone other than the nudist's spouse.
"Would the state statute cover walking down the street in the nude?" Justice Stevens asked. If intended to sexually arouse someone, Karle responded. So, Stevens asked, is it legal to walk around naked everywhere except Erie "just to sunbathe as much as possible?"
Karle's response did nothing to debunk that interpretation of the law.
From an article by Richard Carelli, Nando Media and AP