Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.
427 U.S. 50 (1976)
Detroit adopted a zoning
ordinance that regulated 'adult' theaters, limiting where they could be
The idea was to not let a
bunch of unsavory businesses congregate in the same neighborhood, thereby
creating a 'skid row'.
American challenged the
ordinance, claiming that it was an unconstitutional infringement of their 1st
Amendment right to free speech.
American showed movies that
were dirty, but were not considered obscene, and thus protected by the 1st Amendment.
The Trial Court upheld the
ordinance. American appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed
and overturned the ordinance. Detroit appealed.
The Appellate Court found
that the ordinance amounted to prior restraint of free speech, and that is almost never constitutionally
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found the ordinance to be constitutional.
The US Supreme Court found
that the ordinance didn't prevent American from showing movies, it only
regulated where they could show them.
Even regular movie theaters
required a license and couldn't be built in areas zoned as residential.
The Court found that this
sort of speech was low-value speech,
and as such didn't merit full 1st Amendment
The Court balanced
American's right of free speech
with Detroit's compelling interest to protect its citizens quality of
life and found that the ordinance was constitutional.
Until this case, speech was
considered either fully-protected, or not protected at all. This case
created a sliding scale where speech that was dirty yet not quite obscene received a lesser amount of protection under
the 1st Amendment.