(CN) – Hermosa Beach, Calif., can’t ban tattoo parlors, the 9th Circuit ruled, because tattooing is a “purely expressive activity” protected by the First Amendment.
In a federal lawsuit, tattoo shop owner Johnny Anderson claimed the city’s ban on tattoo parlors violated his constitutional rights.
Anderson, who already co-owns a tattoo parlor in another part of Los Angeles County, wanted to open an additional shop in Hermosa Beach.
The city argued that the ban was reasonable because tattooing, if done in unsanitary conditions, can contribute to the spread of HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other diseases.
Hermosa Beach also argued that it has only one inspector to regulate as many as 850 tattooists.
The district court upheld the ban, explaining that although tattoos are a type of non-verbal expression, they do not qualify for First Amendment protection.
On appeal, a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit reversed, ruling that tattooing is purely expressive activity that’s considered protected speech.
“In sum, we hold that the tattoo itself, the process of tattooing, and the business of tattooing are forms of pure expression fully protected by the First Amendment,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the Pasadena-based panel.