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First Amendment Library:
Maureen Pulte Reilly


[*]Zoning ordinances adopted by the city of Detroit differentiate between motion picture theaters which exhibit sexually explicit "adult" movies and those which do not. The principal question presented by this case is whether that statutory classification is unconstitutional because it is based on the content of communication protected by the First Amendment.[1]Effective November 2, 1972, Detroit adopted the ordinances challenged in this litigation. Instead of concentrating "adult" theaters in limited zones, these ordinances require that such theaters be dispersed. Specifically, an adult theater may not be located within 1,000 feet of any two other "regulated uses" or within 500 feet of a residential area.[2] The term "regulated uses" includes 10 different kinds of establishments in addition to adult theaters.[3]*53 The classification of a theater as "adult" is expressly predicated on the character of the motion pictures which it exhibits. If the theater is used to present "material distinguished or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to `Specified Sexual Activities' or `Specified Anatomical Areas,' "[4] it is an adult establishment.[5]*54 The 1972 ordinances were amendments to an "Anti-Skid Row Ordinance" which had been adopted 10 years earlier. At that time the Detroit Common Council made a finding that some uses of property are especially injurious to a neighborhood when they are concentrated in limited areas.[6] The decision to add adult motion picture theaters and adult book stores to the list of businesses which, apart from a special waiver,[7] could not be located within 1,000 feet of two other "regulated uses," was, in part, a response to the significant growth in the number *55 of such establishments.[8] In the opinion of urban planners and real estate experts who supported the ordinances, the location of several such businesses in the same neighborhood tends to attract an undesirable quantity and quality of transients, adversely affects property values, causes an increase in crime, especially prostitution, and encourages residents and businesses to move elsewhere.