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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal court Tuesday declared a curfew law in the nation's capital unconstitutional, ruling it violated the rights of minors and parents.

The decision came in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union last November on behalf of a group of eight teen-agers, four parents and a local business.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an order rejecting the district's argument that children were protected by the curfew, which took effect Sept. 20, 1995. The law set curfews of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays and midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends for children under 17.

``This ruling makes it clear that curfew laws violate the constitutional rights of children and parents, while doing nothing to make our streets safer,'' said Arthur Spitzer, ACLU legal director for the national capital area.

Disappointed by the ruling, District Mayor Marion Barry described the curfew as an important tool in protecting minors from crime.

``I regret that the U.S. District Court did not agree and that the Court has given a thumbs down to a well-thought-out effort to combat crime in the district,'' Barry said in a statement, adding that the city corporation counsel will study the decision for a possible appeal.

The ruling calls into question one of the proposals of President Clinton, who has recommended that cities enact curfews to keep youths under 18 off the streets after 8 p.m. on school nights, 9 p.m. in the summer and 11 p.m. on weekends.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has also spoken favorably of curfews in some communities, but has said he does not support a federal curfew.

In the Washington case, the city argued the curfew didn't violate equal protection guarantees because it was imposed to protect children from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime. Sullivan's ruling said the city failed to show how the curfew would do that.

``In the court's view, this legislation was not narrowly tailored by the City Council to sanction the government's erosion of one of the most comprehensive and valued liberty interests afforded citizens of a civilized society _ the cherished freedom of movement,'' Sullivan wrote.

Spitzer said everybody might be better off at home past midnight, but minors and parents should make the decisions _ not the district council.

The curfew violates minors' rights to free movement and parents' rights to exercise parental discretion and control, said Sullivan. The law is too broad and vague and is a violation of minors' rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, he added.

Student plaintiffs in the case said the curfew threatened to keep them from participating in extracurricular school activities and after-school jobs. A movie theater that joined the case argued the curfew hurt its business by making it illegal for minors to attend later movie showings.

Similar curfews are in place in cities and towns across the country. Spitzer said he hoped the ruling in the nation's capital would bring about the lifting of other curfews.