Tennessee Anti-Drag Law Declared Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that anti-drag legislation known as the Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) is unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Tennessee has ruled that the anti-drag legislation known as the Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) is unconstitutional following a two-day trial.

The AEA was signed into law in March by Gov. Bill Lee (R). The law would seek to restrict drag shows in the form of restricting “adult entertainment.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Memphis-based, drag-centric theater group Friends of George’s in late March.

Melissa Stewart, one of the lawyers for the theater group, tweeted the news late Friday evening writing, “And just like that, drag remains legal in Tennessee.”

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker, a Trump appointee, wrote in his ruling:

“The Tennessee General Assembly can certainly use its mandate to pass laws that their communities demand. But that mandate as to speech is limited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which commands that laws infringing on the Freedom of Speech must be narrow and well-defined. The AEA is neither.”

In their lawsuit, Friends of George’s alleged that the law “explicitly [restricts or chills] speech and expression protected by the First Amendment based on its content, its message, and its messenger.”

Judge Parker agreed. He also expressed concerns that the law could be selectively enforced.

“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,” Judge Parker wrote. “The Court emphasizes that the fear of prosecution from law enforcement officers is not merely speculative but certainly impending.”

And while the word “drag” doesn’t appear in the language of the legislation,  Judge Parker noted “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.”

Judge Parker had previously issued a temporary injunction against the law just hours before it would have gone into effect. At the time, he called the law “vague and overly-broad.” Prior to the injunction’s expiration, he extended it.

Award-winning legal journalist Chris Geidner breaks down the ruling at Law Dork.