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January 22, 2001 09:00pm
Supreme Court Rejects S.C. County's Appeal on Adult Business Rules
Source: AP

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- South Carolina's Greenville County lost a Supreme Court appeal yesterday that sought to reinstate it's licensing program for adult-oriented businesses.

The court, without comment, turned down the county's argument in Greenville County, S.C., v. Harkins that its licensing ordinance was lawful, although there was no guarantee a business denied a license would get a prompt ruling if it appealed to a court.

Last week the justices dismissed a similar case from Waukesha, Wis. The court heard arguments on the case in November but decided it was moot because the bookstore in that case no longer sought a license.

In a 1965 case involving movie censorship, the Supreme Court said the Constitution's free-speech protection means anyone challenging a censorship order must be assured "a prompt final judicial decision."

In 1990, the justices ruled that when cities require licenses for adult-oriented businesses, those denied licenses must be provided "the possibility of prompt judicial review."

Greenville County enacted an ordinance in 1995 requiring adult-oriented businesses to get a county license and to operate only in certain areas. The owners of several nude or seminude dancing clubs and an adult video and bookstore challenged the law in state court, saying it was an unconstitutional prior restraint on their speech.

A trial judge upheld the ordinance, but the South Carolina Supreme Court threw out the licensing provision this past June.

The remaining part of the law that keeps adult businesses from locating within 1,500 feet of a house or apartment, church, park or school, is adequate for now, County Attorney A.J. Tothacer Jr. said. The lawyer said he would advise the County Council to avoid taking up the licensing issue again unless Supreme Court rulings in future cases provide clearer standards.

Businesses denied a license must be guaranteed a prompt court ruling on their appeal, the state's top court said. It noted that federal appeals courts had split on the issue, with some saying prompt access to court was enough to satisfy the Constitution.

The state court said some states had laws providing quick review of adult business licensing cases, but South Carolina did not.

In the appeal acted on yesterday, the county's lawyers said, "All that is required is prompt judicial review — not a judicial determination ... within any prescribed amount of time."

Lawyers for the adult-oriented businesses said the licensing requirement was invalid for other reasons, and urged the justices to deny review.

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