Arizona Supreme Court Rules Tattooing Protected Free Speech

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Tattooing Protected Under First Amendment

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that tattooing is a form of free speech, protected under the US and state constitutions — the first decision of its kind by any high state court in th US.

While making the ruling about tattooing being protected, the unanimous ruling didn’t say if Mesa, Arizona was out of bounds for denying permission for a tattoo parlor to open in March of 2009, reports AZ Central.

That decision will be made in Maricopa County Superior Court, where a judge initially rejected the lawsuit filed by husband and wife tattoo artists Ryan and Laetitia Coleman.

The upcoming trial would pit the First Amendment rights of tattoo artists against a city’s authority to regulate businesses, even if they engage in constitutionally protected speech. Clint Bolick, a Goldwater Institute lawyer representing the Colemans, stated that:

“This is a big win for the little guys. This is an important ruling in favor of entrepreneurs who wanted to establish a business in Mesa and found the ground constantly shifting beneath their feet.”

Bolick added that the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling sets a national precedent on an issue that courts at many levels have offered a mix of opinion on. Bolick added:

“This is the first state supreme court in the country to rule that tattooing is a form of protected speech. That’s very significant. … We now know that in Arizona tattooing is a protected form of free speech, and that’s a victory for freedom.”

Mesa City Attorney Debbie Spinner was less than excited about the ruling, saying that the city was disappointed about the ruling. She did add, however, that the ruling clarifies the grounds on which the lower court can rule.

The legal battle began when the Colemans sought permission to open Angel Tattoo in a strip mall in Mesa. They had already rented space for the shop and agreed to several restrictions under a “good-neighbor policy.”

At the council’s March 30, 2009 meeting, however, several neighborhood residents expressed fear that the shop would attract unsavory elements. The council denied the license, saying they had the authority to do so under the city’s use-permit process.

MSNBC notes that the Colemans filed a civil-rights lawsuit shortly after, alleging violations to their rights to free speech. The suit was dismissed, but the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Colemans, saying:

“Recognizing that tattooing involves constitutionally protected speech, we hold that the superior court erred by dismissing the complaint as a matter of law.”

The Colemans now must go through another trial in the County Superior Court, in order to fight for the city to pay damages from the couple not being able to open their tattoo shop.

Do you think the city had the authority to block the Colemans from opening a tattoo shop?

[Image from ShutterStock]