Federal appeals court upholds Nevada limitations on brothel ads in Las Vegas, Reno

By Ken Ritter, AP
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Federal court says Nevada can limit brothel ads

LAS VEGAS — A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a Nevada law that bars legal brothels that operate in some of the state’s rural areas from advertising by newspaper, leaflets and billboards in Las Vegas, Reno and other places where prostitution is illegal.

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto hailed the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in San Francisco, while a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada promised to appeal.

The laws had been challenged by the ACLU, a Nye County brothel called the Shady Lady Ranch and two newspapers: the High Desert Advocate and Las Vegas City Life.

Prostitution is illegal in Clark and Washoe counties — which include Las Vegas and Reno — and three other Nevada counties. Ten Nevada counties authorize prostitution by local ordinance.

The 9th Circuit panel reversed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan in Nevada that two 1979 state laws prohibiting brothel advertising in counties where prostitution is illegal were overly broad and unconstitutional.

The laws also prohibit brothel advertising in theaters and on streets and public highways.

The 9th Circuit noted in its ruling that Nevada was unique among states because it has a “nuanced boundary,” rather than total criminalization of prostitution.

But the state still seeks to confine the sale of sex acts through licensing and advertising restrictions, the judges said.

“The Nevada laws appropriately limited commercial speech,” the 9th Circuit said. “We conclude that the interest in preventing the commodification of sex is substantial.”

ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein said he didn’t immediately know whether he’d seek a hearing before the full 9th Circuit or would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

“The key issue is freedom of speech,” he said.

It’s a violation of the First Amendment for the state to restrict advertising by a legal industry, and it’s wrong for a court to make exceptions because the state doesn’t want to have it advertised that legalized prostitution exists, Lichtenstein said.

Masto called free speech “perhaps our most cherished right.” But Nevada has had restrictions on brothel advertising for 40 years, and the state should have the right to have reasonable limitations, she said.

“The circuit’s decision proves there are different ways to deal with the issue without trampling on First Amendment rights,” she said.

Bobbi Davis, owner of the Shady Lady Ranch, declined immediate comment.

George Flint, a lobbyist with the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, said he hadn’t seen much advertising by the 24 legal brothels around the state, and didn’t think the court ruling would have much effect.

“We’ve encouraged our people to be cautious and not get carried away,” Flint said. “The Legislature may not be able to control the advertising issue, but they do control our destiny.”

The case is Coyote Publishing v. Miller, No. 07-16633.

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