ACLU Forces CA Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control Out of Censorship Business

September 25, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today reached a settlement in a case where city officials in Palm Springs took a back-door route to censoring an erotic arts exhibition during late July and early August of 1997.

“The government’s license to censor has been revoked once and for all,” said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “The regulations at issue practically invited abuse by low-level bureaucrats, using the threat of losing a liquor license to stifle free speech. These rules give government the power to restrict public discourse and is exactly the kind of abuse our country’s founders had in mind when they enacted the Bill of Rights.”

In 1997 Palm Springs’ Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control (ABC) threatened to yank the alcohol license of the host convention center for the erotic arts exhibit held by Lifestyles Organization (LSO). With the help of the ACLU of Southern California, LSO sought and received a temporary restraining order, and the erotic arts exhibition proceeded as planned, drawing 2,000 attendees.

LSO later pressed the case, seeking damages, attorney’s fees, and a guarantee that ABC would not enforce the regulations against LSO in the future.

Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that made it clear that ABC’s enforcement of the regulations was unconstitutional. Since that time, the parties in the case have been working towards the settlement.

The settlement reached requires that ABC cease enforcing visual arts codes against LSO, and that ABC pay $12,500 dollars in damages to LSO as well as LSO’s attorneys’ fees.

“ABC was trying to control more than beverages,” said Peter Eliasberg, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “The beverage bureaucrats went after speech they thought was inappropriate. That’s not their job, and they’re not equipped to weigh the Constitutional issues involved.”

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