Municipality can't make Club SinRock close at 2 a.m., Supreme Court says
The Alaska Supreme Court says an Anchorage city code governing operating hours on adult-oriented businesses cannot be enforced against Club SinRock because it violates the state constitution’s free speech clause.
In its opinion released Friday, the court writes, “…we have held that the Alaska free speech clause protects nude dancing as a form of expression.”
The city code in question says adult-oriented establishments must close between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. and defines them as “a cabaret which features topless dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators, or similar entertainers. An adult cabaret does not include an establishment licensed for sale of alcoholic beverages.”
SinRock’s issue with the city first arose in January 2016 when the city clerk got a complaint about SinRock staying open past 2 a.m. The club’s owner agreed that the business regularly stays open till 4 a.m.
When the club applied for its license to be renewed in March, the city said renewal would be conditional, with the understanding that the business would abide by city code.
SinRock appealed the decision and eventually brought its case to the Supreme Court, saying the city was imposing a “content-based restriction burdening the right to free speech.”
The court says it’s possible for the city to establish a new code that outlines closing-hour restrictions on cabarets but says the current one can’t be enforced “because the municipal assembly failed to appropriately justify its imposition,” according to the opinion.
Anchorage Municipal Attorney Rebecca Windt Pearson said during an interview on Friday, “I read the conclusion of the court to be that this exact type of hours restriction on this subcategory of business could be constitutionally permissible, if based on different evidence. If it can be demonstrated that, with different evidence, that there really is a higher level of safety concern during these four hours in the middle of the night, that potentially a similar law could be supportable.”
Majority owner Timothy Lyons said he is grateful for the court’s ruling and that at all five of his cabaret locations, including in Anchorage and Fairbanks, his business strives to be a good neighbor.
The ordinance itself is not a good fit for cabarets, he said. It was originally meant to govern massage parlors. In addition to restricting early morning hours of operations, the ordinance prohibits showing genitalia to customers — a practice that is at the core of Club SinRock’s operations.
“Perhaps the way [the ordinance] was put together in 2003 was imperfect," Pearson said, “but this is, again, another opportunity for the current assembly to look at that and decide if they share the concerns and if they’d like to do something different going forward.”
In the meantime, Club SinRock’s win, while narrow, is a win for all cabarets. If other, similar businesses have been closing at 2 a.m in accordance with the municipal code, they can now choose to stay open later.
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