Does the government have the right to deny business permits because neighbors complain? The Arizona Supreme Court said no in its ruling on the Goldwater Institute’s case, Coleman v. Mesa.
Ryan and Laetitia Coleman followed all the rules the City of Mesa, Arizona set out to qualify for a business permit to open a high-end tattoo studio. But when neighbors complained, the city council denied the permit on a 6-1 vote. The only vote for the Colemans was Mesa Mayor Scott Smith who said there was not a shred of evidence that the business would harm the community.
The Goldwater Institute was proud to team up with the Colemans to ensure that business permit decisions are based on firm rules that apply equally to all and that entrepreneurs aren’t subject to arbitrary decision-making by government officials.
More important, the court ruled that the Colemans’ business is protected by the First Amendment, underscoring the principle that free speech and free enterprise are closely connected.
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Last step: Arizona Supreme Court reinstated the case, holding that tattooing is protected speech.
October 15, 2010: The Colemans appeal to the Arizona Court of Appeals
September 15, 2011: AZ Court of Appeals hears Oral Argument
November 3, 2011: AZ Court of Appeals reviews and reinstitutes the case
December 3, 2011: Mesa petitions the AZ Supreme Court for review
March 27, 2012: AZ Supreme Court hears Oral Argument
September 7, 2012: AZ Supreme Court rules in favor of the Goldwater Institute, upholding First Amendment protections
September 7, 2012: Arizona Supreme Court in Mesa Case: 1st Amendment Protects Tattoos
September 11, 2012: Mesa Loses — Again
Clint Bolick is the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director. He has extensive success before trial judges and appellate courts. He was lead attorney for parents in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, and Kotterman v. Killian in 1997, in which the Arizona Supreme Court upheld private school scholarship tax credits under the Arizona Constitution.