'Passed for an impermissible purpose': Trump-appointed judge rules Tennessee anti-drag law unconstitutional
A federal judge appointed to the bench in 2017 by former President Donald Trump ruled on Friday night that Tennessee's anti-drag law is unconstitutional.
District Judge Thomas Parker of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee issued an injunction against the state's Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) at the conclusion of a two-day trial, which followed his March issuance of a restraining order blocking the AEA from taking effect after the non-profit production group Friends of George's sued Shelby County District Attorney General Steven Mulroy.
In his seventy-page opinion, Parker determined that the ban on "adult cabaret entertainment" is "an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on the freedom of speech and PERMANENTLY ENJOINS Defendant Steven Mulroy from enforcing the unconstitutional statute."
Parker explained that "the Court finds that the legislative transcript strongly suggests that the AEA was passed for an impermissible purpose" due to its "substantially overbroad" language and that "Plaintiff's exhibits are performances that both described and represented sexual content that is arguably constitutionally-protected."
Parker sided with Friends of George's because they proved that performers would face a "certain threat of prosecution" because "the chance that an officer could abuse that wide discretion is troubling given an art form like drag that some would say purposefully challenges the limits of society's accepted norms."
The AEA's "narrowing construction by substituting 17-year-old for 'minors' veers so far from the AEA's text that neither reasonable people nor officers in Shelby County would have fair notice of the AEA's meaning," Parker said. "It would have to eat the proverbial mushroom to find out whether it is poisonous."
Parker also pointed out that the AEA's provisions at their core are inherently discriminatory.
"Given an appropriate scope, [Tennessee] may regulate adult-oriented performers who are harmful to minors. But it cannot, in the name of protecting children, use the AEA to target speakers for a reason that is unrelated to protecting children," Parker wrote. "The Court finds that the AEA's text targets the viewpoint of gender identity —particularly those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one with which they are born."
Law Dork founder Chris Geidner noted in his analysis that "the effect of the ruling was not immediately clear. Enforcement is only enjoined as to Mulroy and Shelby County."
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