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Judge Blocks Tennessee Law Limiting Drag Shows

A federal judge blocked a novel Tennessee law—hours before it was set to go into effect Saturday—that would have limited drag shows. U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker issued a temporary restraining order against enforcing the law in response to a lawsuit filed by a Memphis-based theater company, the Wall Street Journal reports. “If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution,” Parker wrote. Citing free-speech protections under the First Amendment, the judge said the state law “missed the mark.” Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed the law last month March. The law doesn’t mention the word “drag,” but bans cabaret performances, including those by male and female impersonators, on public property or in a location where they could be viewed by minors.


Critics say that the legislation is intended to target drag performers and that its vagueness could have a chilling effect on everything from pride parades to pop concerts. Some of the bill’s supporters have said the legislation isn’t drag-specific and is aimed broadly at keeping adult-oriented entertainment from minors. One sponsor, state Rep. Chris Todd, said he intended it to limit drag shows, which Parker said influenced his ruling. District Attorney Steve Mulroy, whose district includes Memphis, told the court he didn’t oppose the temporary restraining order, even as the attorney general’s office argued to defend the law. The theater company filed the lawsuit to block the law before it went into effect, arguing it unconstitutionally limits protected speech. The theater said the law potentially punished a range of mainstream artistic performances and improperly targeted certain types of expression based on their content. In arguments before the judge, the state argued the company didn’t have grounds to sue because any harm from the law was theoretical, as it had yet to go into effect and no arrests had been made.

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