New York City Zones Out Free Expression
14 Pages Posted: 17 May 2014
Date Written: 1999
Over twenty-five years before this Article was published, Vietnam war protestor Paul Cohen was convicted for wearing a jacket, while inside a Los Angeles courthouse, that bore language expressing an opinion about the draft that included an expletive. The Supreme Court in Cohen v. California ruled that Cohen's conviction violated the First Amendment. However distasteful, the message on Cohen's jacket was protected speech. Unfortunately, the New York Court of Appeals neglected these bedrock principles of freedom of expression in Stringfellow's of New York, Ltd. v. City of New York. In Stringfellow’s, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of New York City's adult entertainment zoning ordinance. In a unanimous decision written by Judge Vito Titone, the court ruled that the City's ordinance does not violate the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article I, Section 8 of the New York State Constitution.
This Case Comment analyzes the doctrinal bases of the court's decision, and argues that the court failed to give meaningful protection to free speech interests. As the author states, it is easy to find support for municipal attempts to drive the sex shops out of town. After all, who wants to support sleaze? But at the heart of freedom of speech is its protection of expression the majority finds offensive, distasteful, and even vulgar. The free speech interests of those who trade in sexually explicit materials, as well as those who consume it, must be taken into account, and in a meaningful way.
Keywords: New York City zoning laws, municipal zoning ordinances, commercial zones, free speech, free expression, First Amendment, protected speech, profane language, adult establishments, sexually explicit materials, sex shops, adult theatres
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