The city of Seattle’s 17-year-old “temporary” moratorium on new strip-club licenses was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart today, Monday, September 12, ending a de facto ban on new strip clubs that has lasted for nearly two decades.

Back in March, aspiring strip-club owner Bob Davis filed a legal challenge to the indefinite moratorium, arguing that it constituted an unconstitutional permanent restriction on protected expression. In his ruling, Robart agreed with Davis, calling the moratorium “an unconstitutional prior restraint on free expression because it fails to provide adequate procedural safeguards,” such as a reasonable timeframe in which to issue or deny strip-club licenses and the ability to appeal if a license is mistakenly denied. “The City not only fails to provide a specified time for rendering a licensing decision in its adult entertainment regulations, but it goes a step further in suppressing protected speech and prohibiting any new adult cabarets from opening.”

“Although the Mayor’s office recently committed to new legislative proposals regulating the location of adult cabarets,” the ruling says, “this promise rings hollow in light of the [city’s] continued failure to draft such proposals.”

An appeal from the city is sure to follow. So, undoubtedly, will speedy adoption of Mayor Greg Nickels’s onerous new regulations on strip clubs, which include a “four-foot rule” prohibiting lap dances and a requirement that all strip clubs be brightly lit. Every member of the current city council supports the rules, which will come to a council vote one day after the September primary election.

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The ruling continues: “Similarly, the court is unpersuaded by the City’s attempt to justify 17 years of delay by arguing that ‘adult dancing is alive and well’ in Seattle and that its failure to adopt new legislation ‘was due to legitimate reasons other than censorship.… The City is not permitted to selectively uphold the First Amendment. Further, even assuming the City has blocked the issuance of new adult cabaret licenses for legitimate, non-censorship reasons over the last 17 years, the City’s intent and motive for violating the Constitution are of no consequence.”