updated 9/14/2005 7:46:44 AM ET 2005-09-14T11:46:44

The city’s 17-year moratorium on new strip clubs is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and can no longer be enforced, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart ruled Monday that the city’s rationale for repeatedly extending the ban lacked merit.

The city had argued that the case was not a censorship issue, but that it was waiting for the state and county to adopt new cabaret regulations. It first imposed a temporary moratorium on new adult cabarets in 1988, after the number of strip clubs in Seattle jumped from two to seven over two years.

Still, if the City Council votes next week to adopt a rule banning lap dances, few new strip clubs may open in Seattle anyway. The panel is expected to vote on Mayor Greg Nickels’ proposal requiring exotic dancers to remain 4 feet from their clients.

The plan has drawn protests from the city’s club owners and exotic dancers, who fear it will severely cut into their business.

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