The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reversed the district Court decision in Lifestyles Organization, Limited (LSO) v. Stroh. The ACLU Foundation of Southern California originally filed suit in July, 1997, to prevent the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) from censoring an erotic art show at the Convention Center. Plaintiffs charged that ABC misused its authority to suppress art content of which it disapproved. The ABC had threatened to revoke the liquor license of the Palm Springs Convention Center if the exhibit proceeded, yet no alcohol was to be served at the exhibition. No one from either the Palm Springs Convention Center or the ABC had seen the art works to be displayed at the Lifestyles art show and no judicial determination had been obtained calling the work obscene. The district court granted a temporary restraining order the day before the exhibit was to open, allowing more than 170 works by 38 artists to be displayed.
The district court thereafter granted summary judgment to the defendants on the ground there was no longer a live controversy. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that LSO can seek a court order preventing ABC officials from interfering with future non-obscene erotic art exhibitions on the premises of an ABC licensee. The Court also held that ABC officials were not entitled to qualified immunity, since no reasonable official could have believed that the ABC's authority to regulate alcohol allowed it to restrict artistic expression.
"The Ninth Circuit's decision casts a fatal blow to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's efforts to censor art," said ACLU staff attorney Peter Eliasberg, who argued the case.