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December 11, 2009 11:50 AM

K&L Gates Goes to Bat for (Stripper) "Pole Tax"

Posted by Zach Lowe

When we read that K&L Gates was defending a so-called "pole tax," we had a sneaking suspicion we were about to learn something about a tax involving strip clubs. We were not disappointed.

It turns out that Texas enacted a law last year requiring every patron who enters a "sexually oriented business" (defined as a business that combines nude dancing and alcohol service) to pay a $5 tax. The purpose of the law was to combat sexual assault, according to Texas Lawyer, an Am Law Daily sibling publication. The adult industry filed suit, claiming the law amounted to a tax on protected speech and thus violated the First Amendment. That argument has won out in two state trial courts, placing the legislation in jeopardy; the state has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which is considering whether to review the lower court rulings. 

That's where K&L Gates partner Chris Kratovil comes in. He is representing three amici who are asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, claiming a more detailed explanation of the purpose of the so-called "pole tax" will and should overcome the First Amendment objections. In the most recent lower court ruling, at least one judge indicated that the law might have survived had it been clearer that the tax was intended not as a limit on free speech but as a means of combating "secondary effects"--including sexual violence--that society has a genuine interest in preventing. 

The amici include the legislator who sponsored the bill and two advocacy groups, Texas Lawyer says. They claim that the U.S. Supreme Court has blessed similar laws that limit speech in order to protect against various ills. 

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