New Mexico Supreme Court Rules that the Guild Cinema’s Erotic Film Festival Did Not Violate City Zoning Law
ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Today, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the by hosting ‘Pornotopia,’ a two-day erotic film festival, Guild Cinema did not violate city zoning laws regarding so-called ‘adult amusement establishments.’ The Supreme Court’s ruling overturns the rulings of two lower courts. Although the ACLU of New Mexico, also brought First Amendment Free Speech claims, the court chose to rule narrowly on the zoning issue and did not reach the constitutional questions raised by the ACLU of New Mexico’s suit.
“We are tremendously pleased that the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ ruling against the Guild Cinema today,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Common sense dictates that hosting one erotic film festival does not make the Guild Cinema an ‘adult amusement establishment,’ any more than a club that plays jazz music one night out of the year is a ‘jazz club.’”
The ACLU of New Mexico originally filed the suit on behalf of the Guild Cinema in 2008, after two zoning enforcement inspectors from the city cited the theater for “operating as an adult amusement establishment” in an area not zoned for adult entertainment. The Guild was convicted of this zoning violation in Albuquerque Metropolitan Court, and the conviction was upheld in State District Court.
Today, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ rulings concluding:
Because the Guild engaged in only occasional showings of adult films, the Guild is not an adult amusement establishment as defined in the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances, and the zoning rules governing adult amusement establishments are inapplicable to it. Wetherefore reverse the Court of Appeals and vacate the Guild’s conviction.
“This is a significant victory for free speech in Albuquerque,” said ACLU-NM Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives. “In essence, the court has said that the city cannot limit speech, even speech it doesn’t like, without actual justification.”
The Nob Hill Business Association described the Guild’s erotic film festival as “a success, not only in driving [customer] traffic to the area, but also in the quality and caliber of those customers.” The Association specifically noted that there were “almost no negative comments” and that it hoped the film festival would continue to present the festival. Several local business owners stated that the festival had positive effects on the neighborhood, including increased sales and broader public awareness of the businesses in the area. The festival did not cause any crime or other negative effects in the neighborhood.
“I am thrilled with today’s Supreme Court ruling,” said Guild Cinema co-owner Keif Henley. “This ruling guarantees that our theater can show an occasional adult-themed film without being charged criminally.”
Read the Supreme Court’s full decision here.
ACLU-NM Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives represented the plaintiff in this case.