Title

A re-reading of Supreme Court zoning cases regulating pornography

Date of Award

2001

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

Advisor(s)

Stephen J. Macedo

Keywords

Supreme Court, Zoning cases, Pornography, Constitutional law, Free speech, Feminism

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Law | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Women's Studies

Abstract

This dissertation re-interprets the Supreme Court zoning and nude dancing cases regulating pornography to demonstrate that the central issues in those cases properly concern gender equality. By appropriating Anthony G. Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner's approach in Minding the Law: How courts rely on storytelling, and how their stories change the ways we understand the law -- and ourselves , the dissertation examines these cases from a different time and vantage point and compares them to American Booksellers, Inc. v. Hudnut (1985). Law considers these cases to be significantly different because of the way it categorizes them. On the one hand, free speech law classifies pornography as a protected form of free speech in Hudnut even though the federal judge in the case acknowledged that pornography differentially harms women in all sorts of serious ways ranging from unequal pay to rape and battery. On the other hand, the zoning and nude dancing cases do regulate pornography by zoning and restricting adult establishments in cities. In the zoning and nude dancing cases, courts uphold regulations based not on harm to women, but based on adverse effects such as property devaluation, community debasement, upsurges in sexual assaults and increased prostitution. When the zoning or nude dancing cases do mention sexual crimes such as an increase in rape rates, they do not acknowledge that women are overwhelmingly the targets of such crimes. The purpose of comparing the zoning and nude dancing cases to Hudnut is to underscore a remarkable similarity between the two kinds of cases, which is that they both acknowledge that pornography harms either the community at large or specifically women. The comparison also highlights that law refuses to recognize the gender asymmetry in pornography as a relevant factor in producing those detrimental effects. The dissertation explores how the Supreme Court's free speech categories, concepts and rules exclude gender from the analysis and how that exclusion affects what can be legitimately said about pornography and its harms.

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