Judge Thomas Parker, a judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Friday ruled that Tennessee’s Adult Entertainment Act (AEA) is unconstitutional. In his opinion, Parker ruled that the AEA violates First Amendment rights. He stated that free speech does not extend to just words. Instead, the fundamental right covers an individual’s ability “to express one’s identity, and to realize self-fulfillment in a free society.”
The court analyzed the AEA using strict scrutiny, the most demanding standard of judicial review. Any law or policy that infringes on a fundamental right must pass strict scrutiny. The review requires that the challenged law supports a compelling governmental interest. The law must also be narrowly tailored to be as least restrictive as possible. Parker stated that while Tennessee has a compelling state interest in protecting the “physical and psychological well-being” of minors, the language of the AEA is “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”
Parker took special exception to the AEA’s wording restricting the locations where performances are allowed. The statute criminalizes performances on public land or in a location in which the performance “could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” The court ruled that since minors can be anywhere, the practical effect of the language was to criminalize performances in almost every space in the state.
Additionally, while the law does not expressly mention drag, “male or female impersonators” are. Parker criticized the legislature’s decision to classify a diverse group of performers in the same category as strippers and topless dancers. After detailing some past and recent legal and political struggles in the LGBTQ+ community, he stated, “this Court views categorizing ‘male or female impersonators’ as ‘similar entertainers’ in ‘adult-oriented businesses’ with skepticism.”
Parker previously enjoined the AEA in April. The District Attorney and Tennessee Attorney General’s Office have not yet commented on the ruling.