“Despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on the freedom of speech,” the judge ruled in a decision that was released late Friday night.
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In an at times scathing 70-page decision, a federal judge has ruled that the Adult Entertainment Act (AEA), the official name of Tennessee’s draconian “anti-drag” law, is unconstitutional.
Under the guise of protecting minors, the law, which was the first of its kind in the US, had imposed strict restrictions on drag shows. However, these limits violate the First Amendment rights of performers, found US District Judge Thomas Parker, who was appointed by Donald Trump.
“Despite Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of children — the Adult Entertainment Act (‘AEA’) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on the freedom of speech,” Parker ruled in a decision that was released late Friday night.
The judge did not hold back in expressing what he thought of the law and the motivation behind it.
“This District Court does not find that the Tennessee General Assembly’s predominate
concerns were ‘increase in sexual exploitation,’” Parker wrote. “Rather, the Court finds that their predominate concerns involved the suppression of unpopular views of those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one with which they were born.”
Calling the AEA “neither relatively narrow nor well-defined,” the judge said the law would encourage “discriminatory enforcement.”
He also noted that the law, even without going into effect, already had a negative effect on a pride event held in Memphis.
“The 2022 Mid-South Pride festival had a total of 43 sponsors while on March 30, 2023 — a day before this Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining the AEA’s enforcement — the 2023 festival had only 23 sponsors,” the judge wrote. “Also, while the festival secured 90% of its annual budget from sponsors 60 days before the event in 2022, it secured only 60% of its annual budget 63 days before the event this year. The Court finds that these injuries to Mid-South Pride’s organization show another unconstitutional application of the AEA.”
The plaintiff in this lawsuit, the Memphis-based LGBTQ theatre group “Friends of George’s,” hailed the ruling on Saturday.
“WE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee’s anti-drag law unconstitutional!” the group tweeted.
WE WON! Judge Parker has declared Tennessee's anti-drag law unconstitutional! Friends of George's would like to thank Brice Timmons and Melissa Stewart at Donati Law and all who have stood by us during this fight! #standwithfriendsofgeorges #pride #dragisnotacrime pic.twitter.com/lrzN6tOHqt
— Friends of George's (@GeorgesShowtime) June 3, 2023
Throughout the ruling, Parker seems to cast doubt on the true motivation behind passing the law.
For example, the state argued that the law is meant to protect children independent of their parents. Parker found this argument unpersuasive.
“If the AEA was truly designed to advance ‘the state’s interest in protecting children independent of the parents,’ then its punitive scheme belies that design,” he wrote.
The ruling was not well received by Tennessee Republicans.
“I’m disappointed with the judge’s decision on Senate Bill 3, which ignored 60 years of Supreme Court precedent allowing regulation of obscene entertainment in the presence of minors,” said state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson in a statement. “Sadly, this ruling is a victory for those who support exposing children to sexual entertainment.”
Johnson added that he hoped Tennessee’s attorney general would appeal the ruling.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), however, praised the decision and the man who wrote it.
“Glad to see TN’s clearly unconstitutional anti-drag law struck down,” he tweeted. “Judge Thomas Parker made the right decision. I’ve known Judge Parker for many years & knew he’d be fair-minded. He is a credit to the judiciary & the federal branch.”