Judge temporarily strikes down Tennessee law restricting drag performances

Tennessee is the first state to restrict drag performances in public.

April 1, 2023, 6:07 PM

A federal judge in Tennessee has paused the state's new law restricting public drag performances just hours before the legislation was set to take effect.

In a ruling on Friday night, Judge Thomas Parker delayed enforcement of H.B. 9 for 14 days while the court considers its constitutionality. The ruling marked a temporary victory for Friends of George, a theater company that puts on drag shows and claimed that the newly-passed legislation, which was signed by Gov. Bill Lee, R-Tenn., infringed on its First Amendment rights.

"Within our country's federal framework, states are laboratories of democracy that can test laws and policies enacted by The People," Parker wrote.

The outside of Atomic Rose where spectators watch a drag performance ahead of the implementation of a Tennessee law restricting drag in front of minors that is due to come into force on April 1 at Atomic Rose in Memphis, Tenn., March 26, 2023.
Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters

The judge partially cited H.B. 9’s "redundancy" in halting implementation of the legislation, which would make "a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property" -- or where it can be viewed by minors -- a criminal offense.

"When the Court asked exactly what conduct this Statute reaches that is outside the scope of Tennessee's obscenity laws, Defendant initially answered that the Statute adds very little, and later clarified that in their view, the Statute is a time, place, and manner restriction. But this answer raises more questions for the Court as it does little to advance Defendant's position," the ruling stated.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told Parker he didn’t object to a temporary restraining order.

ABC News’ Davone Morales contributed to this report.

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