Court puts ink on Mesa tattoo parlor case

Supreme Court says tattoos protected as free speech—remands case to county

By Gary Nelson

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Friday that tattooing is a form of free speech with full protection under the U.S. and state constitutions — the first such decision by any state high court in the country.

The unanimous court, however, stopped short of saying Mesa was out of bounds when its City Council denied permission for a tattoo parlor to open in March 2009.

That must now be decided in Maricopa County Superior Court, where a judge initially rejected a lawsuit filed by tattoo artists Ryan and Laetitia Coleman.

The trial would pit tattoo artists’ First Amendment rights against a city’s authority to regulate even those businesses that engage in constitutionally protected speech.

“This is a big win for the little guys,” said Clint Bolick, a Goldwater Institute lawyer representing the Colemans. “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.”


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September 2012