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Court bars Indianapolis’ hour limits on adult bookstores

January 28, 2014

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has tossed an Indianapolis ordinance limiting the business hours of adult bookstores from 10 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.

In a five-page opinion issued Friday, Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for a panel that reversed a District Court ruling in favor of Indianapolis’ ordinance in long-running litigation, Annex Books Inc, et al. v. City of Indianapolis. The panel ordered Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to grant an injunction barring enforcement of the closure ordinance.

Easterbrook wrote the city could no more restrict the hours of an adult bookstore than it could limit the hours during which a Sunday newspaper could be distributed.

“The difference lies in the content of the reading material. Indianapolis likes G-rated newspapers but not sexually oriented books, magazines, and movies,” Easterbrook wrote, noting that in two precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court rulings, neither “permits units of government to stop the distribution of books because their content is objectionable, unless the material is obscene.”

“Indianapolis does not contend that any of the plaintiffs sells obscene  material; it  follows that  objection to the plaintiffs’ stock in trade cannot justify closure,” the panel held.

The city failed to persuade the court that the ordinance was justified because of claims of fewer armed robberies near adult bookstores during the times they were closed.

“The current justification is weak as a statistical matter,” the panel held, noting the city didn’t control for other potentially important variables such as nearby late-night taverns. In any event, Easterbrook wrote, “The change in the number of armed robberies is small; the difference is not statistically significant. The data do not show that robberies are more likely at adult bookstores than at other late night retail outlets, such as liquor stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, that are not subject to the closing hours imposed on bookstores.”

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