Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc.
427 U.S. 50 (1976)

  • Detroit adopted a zoning ordinance that regulated ‘adult’ theaters, limiting where they could be built.
    • The idea was to not let a bunch of unsavory businesses congregate in the same neighborhood, thereby creating a ‘skid row’.
  • American challenged the ordinance, claiming that it was an unconstitutional infringement of their 1st Amendment right to free speech.
    • American showed movies that were dirty, but were not considered obscene, and thus protected by the 1st Amendment.
  • The Trial Court upheld the ordinance. American appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and overturned the ordinance. Detroit appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the ordinance amounted to prior restraint of free speech, and that is almost never constitutionally permissible.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found the ordinance to be constitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the ordinance didn’t prevent American from showing movies, it only regulated where they could show them.
      • Even regular movie theaters required a license and couldn’t be built in areas zoned as residential.
    • The Court found that this sort of speech was low-value speech, and as such didn’t merit full 1st Amendment protections.
    • The Court balanced American’s right of free speech with Detroit’s compelling interest to protect its citizens quality of life and found that the ordinance was constitutional.
  • Until this case, speech was considered either fully-protected, or not protected at all. This case created a sliding scale where speech that was dirty yet not quite obscene received a lesser amount of protection under the 1st Amendment.