(CN) – Virginia can ban strip clubs from serving mixed drinks, the 4th Circuit ruled. “Not only does Virginia’s policy regulate with the lightest of touches, but the degree to which it trenches upon First Amendment values is minimal at best,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.
Three Virginia nightclubs, where dancers perform in g-strings and pasties, challenged the state’s alcohol licensing program, which limits them to serving only beer and wine.
The clubs claimed the licensing scheme violated the First Amendment, was unconstitutionally vague and was too broad.
The state Alcohol Beverage Control Board’s chief operating officer explained that the state had an interest in banning mixed drinks from strip clubs, because hard alcohol leads to higher levels of intoxication. He said the board reviewed more than 40 studies showing that sexually oriented businesses are bad for surrounding communities, and excessive drunkenness would only exacerbate the negative effects.
But the nightclubs offered evidence meant to show that their clubs were not “hot spots” for crime, even though they were licensed to sell mixed drinks.
A federal judge rejected the clubs’ arguments, a ruling the 4th Circuit upheld.
Circuit Judge Wilkinson said there was “no indication that expression is being curtailed at all,” as dancers can keep nude dancing.
“The public interest served by the policy is substantial, the restriction on the clubs mild and the burden on the First Amendment values slight,” Wilkinson wrote.
He said Virginia “has demonstrated moderation in its efforts to balance the expressive value of erotic dancing with the unwanted encouragement of secondary effects.”