A Trump-appointed federal judge has just struck down a new law in Tennessee restricting drag shows where children might be present.
Here’s more via Washington Times:
A federal judge says Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation law designed to place strict limits on drag shows is unconstitutional.
In a 70-page ruling handed down late Friday night, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker wrote that the law was both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.” He also added that the statute encouraged “discriminatory enforcement.”
“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” stated Parker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. “Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit – but not obscene – speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech.”
The Memphis-based Friends of George’s filed the complaint in March, saying the law would negatively impact them because they produce “drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays” with no age restrictions.
Tennessee’s Republican-dominated Legislature advanced the anti-drag law earlier this year, with several GOP members pointing to drag performances in their hometowns as reasons why it was necessary to restrict such performances from taking place in public or where children could view them.
Yet the actual word “drag” doesn’t appear in the statute. Instead lawmakers changed the definition of adult cabaret in Tennessee to mean “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors.” Furthermore, “male or female impersonators” were classified as a form of adult cabaret, akin to strippers and topless, go-go and exotic dancers.
The law would have banned adult cabaret performances from public property or anywhere minors might be present. Performers who broke the law risked being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for a repeat offense.
Lee quickly signed off on the statute and it was set to take effect April 1. However, to date, the law has never been enforced because Parker sided with the group that filed the lawsuit challenging the statute in March and temporarily blocked the law.
“The word ‘drag’ never appears in the text of the (law). But the Court cannot escape that ‘drag’ was the one common thread in all three specific examples of conduct that was considered ‘harmful to minors,’ in the legislative transcript,” Parker wrote.
Parker used an example of a female performer who wore an Elvis Presley costume and mimicked iconic musician could be at risk of punishment under the drag law because they would be considered a “male impersonator.”
“Whether some of us may like it or not, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment as protecting speech that is indecent but not obscene,” the judge wrote.
There is no question that these drag shows are out of control and children need to be protected from them, if possible. So I think Tennessee was trying to do the right thing here.
It does sound like the law may be overly broad, but if this judge is right the courts wouldn’t stand by it regardless because “no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit – but not obscene – speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech.”
Now maybe this Supreme Court would disagree on this point, but even so it sounds like the law would need to be rewritten to be more specific. I guess we’ll find out of Tennessee chooses to appeal.