Thanh Thuy Vo owns a “CyberCafe” where individuals rent Internet computer time to send and receive e-mail messages, as well as research various topics. Within two years, the number of CyberCafes in Vo’s community increased from 3 to 23.
The police chief advised the city manager of a major increase in criminal gang activity near these CyberCafes, including a murder. He suggested a new ordinance regulating CyberCafes.
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In response, the city council enacted an ordinance requiring special CyberCafe permits based on “general welfare” criteria, including requirements for a curfew for minors, employee hiring criteria, and security guard requirements.
Vo and other CyberCafe owners challenged the city ordinance, requesting an injunction against enforcement. They argued the ordinance violates their constitutional First Amendment free speech rights, and the rights of their customers.
If you were the judge would you rule the new city ordinance requiring special permits for CyberCafes violates the First Amendment free speech rights of the business owners and patrons?
The judge said yes!
There is a long line of precedent cases that have held unconstitutional city ordinances governing the issuance of licenses or permits to conduct First Amendment activities where city administrators are granted excessive discretion to deny or grant a license, the judge began.
This city ordinance is too vague because it allows the zoning administrator to approve or disapprove a CyberCafe special permit without objective standards, he continued.
However, under a city’s police power it has discretion to set by local ordinance reasonable objective standards, such as a curfew for minors, business employment criteria, and even security guard requirements, the judge ruled.
Although a city ordinance can establish reasonable business operation standards, it cannot require special permits that allow or disallow a business, which involves constitutional First Amendment free speech rights of the owners and patrons, the judge concluded.
Based on the 2004 California Court of Appeal decision in Vo v. City of Garden Grove, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 257.
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