Trump-appointed judge blocks Tennessee anti-drag law

A federal judge in Tennessee has temporarily blocked the state’s anti-drag law, preventing it from going into effect. The law, which restricts drag performances, was signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee last month, alongside a bill banning gender-affirming care for youth.

Under the law, individuals found in violation could face felony charges for repeat offenses. The law prohibits drag performances on public property or in venues that could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.

Memphis-based nonprofit Friends of George’s, a theater company that produces original, drag-centric performances, sued the state earlier this week over the law. The group argued that the law restricts speech and expression protected by the First Amendment based on its content, message, and messenger.

US District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, issued a 14-day temporary restraining order only hours before the law was set to take effect. In his order, Parker noted that the state had not provided a clear answer to the law’s purpose and that the restrictions placed on the theater were not trifling issues for a theater company in a free, civil society.

“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 in his ruling. “The Court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

“We won because this is a bad law,” said Mark Campbell, Friends of George’s board president. “We look forward to our day in court where the rights for all Tennesseans will be affirmed.”

A hearing is set for a day before Friends of George’s next show on April 14th. The law is one of around 12 similar bills proposed in Republican-led state legislatures across the country, with Tennessee being the first state to have such a measure signed into law.

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