A lower court asserts that the law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) likely infringes upon the First Amendment and conflicts with the "bill of rights" for parents.
Supreme Court Rejects Immediate Enforcement of Florida Law on Children and Drag Shows
The court, in a 6-to-3 vote, declined to take such action, and the three most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, registered their dissents.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court declined to expedite the implementation of a Florida state law aimed at barring children from attending specific live drag performances. A previous ruling by a lower court had statewide blocked the law, asserting that it likely violated the First Amendment and was "specifically designed to suppress the speech of drag queen performers."
Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, in the majority, clarified that the decision did not indicate their stance on whether Florida's law breaches the First Amendment. Meanwhile, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil M. Gorsuch expressed a willingness to allow the law to be enforced during the ongoing legal proceedings.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, signed the measure in May, prohibiting children from attending sexually explicit shows deemed obscene based on their age. Although the law does not explicitly mention drag shows, it empowers state officials to penalize and suspend licenses of establishments allowing children at performances featuring lewd exposure to "prosthetic genitals and breasts."
Hamburger Mary's, an Orlando restaurant hosting drag shows, filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality, arguing potential business losses. A District Court judge sided with Hamburger Mary's in June, issuing a preliminary order that prevented the enforcement of the law, citing vague language regarding "lewd conduct" and "lewd exposure."
Judge Gregory A. Presnell noted the contradiction with existing laws, such as minors being allowed to attend R-rated films accompanied by a parent. He also highlighted the clash with DeSantis's "Parents' Bill of Rights," as the law allows the state to decide which performances children can attend, instead of leaving that decision to parents.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld Presnell's order in a divided panel, affirming the restaurant's position.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sought Supreme Court intervention, requesting the injunction be limited to apply solely to Hamburger Mary's during the litigation. She argued that completely blocking the law inflicted irreparable harm on Florida by erasing a statute designed to protect children from sexually explicit live performances.
In response, Hamburger Mary's attorney, Donald A. Donati, urged the Supreme Court to maintain the status quo, emphasizing that the restaurant's shows are not harmful to minors. Concerns were raised about potential violations due to the law's vague language and the potential loss of business if age restrictions were imposed. Donati highlighted existing constitutional laws in Florida that already prevent children from accessing sexually explicit materials, asserting that maintaining the status quo would cause no irreparable harm to the state.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in conjunction with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, issued a brief statement clarifying that the First Amendment issue was not raised by the state in this case. Kavanaugh emphasized that the court's decision on Thursday does not provide any indication of the court's stance on whether Florida's new law violated the First Amendment.
In summary, at least for the time being, the high court has sided with Hamburger Mary's and other drag shows. Hamburger Mary's asserts that it "has always marketed itself as a family restaurant. Parents and grandparents often attend shows with their children, and HM leaves it up to parents to determine whether a particular show is appropriate for the age of their own child." Following the passage of the anti-drag law, age restrictions led to the cancellation of 20% of the chain's bookings, according to the restaurant.
A federal district court concurred that the enforcement of the law could jeopardize the First Amendment speech rights of all state residents, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit declined to intervene while the case is under appeal.