Dallas’ Attempt to Ban Adult Expo is Risky Business

“Damn the judicial system, we’re going to take this on.”

With this comment, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings recently declared his opposition to the traveling Exxxotica adult entertainment expo making a return appearance to Big D’s downtown convention center.

Some of North Texas’ most prominent citizens agreed with the mayor and attended the recent City Council meeting where the vote on Exxxotica was taken: Billionaire oilman Ray Hunt, whose holdings include two major downtown hotels, and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the namesake of Dallas’ convention center.

A majority of the Dallas City Council also agreed, albeit by a narrow 8-7 margin. Councilman Rickey Callahan said he couldn’t see the framers of the U.S. Constitution supporting the “unbridled right of pornography to be displayed” in a public building.

Maybe not, but here’s the problem: federal case law has been well-established for years on the free expression of pornography. And legal experts are quite certain that the City of Dallas will lose the inevitable lawsuit filed against it because – if the City of Dallas is going to rent out the Convention Center to private parties – the First Amendment precludes the city from discriminating against one of them simply because the mayor feels this particular message “doesn’t belong in Dallas.”

So why incur the legal fees to defend a lawsuit that one is destined to lose? Political considerations, no doubt. Elected officials – and the rest of us – easily can imagine the campaign ads that could result come re-election time: “Your incumbent council member voted to allow pornography in Dallas!,” including what will no doubt be salacious photos.

To be fair, nearly half the Council saw the writing on the wall and voted against sending the city on this losing path. One member, Jennifer Gates, proposed that the city follow the law and sign the contract but adopt an alternate resolution condemning the adult entertainment industry as a detrimental business that encourages the objectification of women. In other words, she offered a statement of principle while acknowledging the city’s hands are tied.

Alas, even this sensible legal proposal failed the political test. So while the city estimates the legal bill could reach $100,000, Exxxotica has gotten far more in the form of free publicity.

Too bad the mayor and the city council can’t stop by to see what they’re paying for.

Posted: 3/2/2016 8:05:49 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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