A federal judge ruled unconstitutional a Texas law Tuesday that would have prohibited “sexually oriented performances” in the presence of minors — often touted as a ban on drag shows.
United States District Judge David Hittner ruled that SB 12 unconstitutionally restricts speech protected by the First Amendment. Hittner wrote that the language in the bill was too vague for the general public to comply with.
“Without a clear understanding of ‘prurient sexual interest,’ other terms such as ‘lewd’ and ‘Performer’ (which is undefined in S.B. 12) become problematic,” Hittner wrote in the decision. “[I]t is not readily known to someone of ‘ordinary intelligence’ how S.B. 12 will be enforced.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas — which challenged the law last month, as The Dallas Express reported — praised the Tuesday ruling.
“VICTORY: A federal judge has declared Texas’ drag ban unconstitutional,” ACLU of Texas tweeted. “LGBTQIA+ Texans, venue owners, performers, and our allies all came together to uphold free expression in our state — and we won. This work isn’t done but for now we celebrate. Long live Texas drag!”
However, not everyone agrees that the law targets drag shows, and not everyone celebrates the ruling.
Kelly Neidert, executive director of local advocacy group Protect Texas Kids, told The Dallas Express that Hittner’s decision was “really unfortunate.”
“I think anybody who disagrees with the bill has some issues because nowhere in that bill does it say anything about drag shows. It’s not targeting drag. It’s literally … preventing children from attending sexually oriented performances,” she said. “So I really don’t understand how any sane person can disagree with that. It’s pretty disturbing to hear that [SB 12] was ruled unconstitutional.”
Hittner’s ruling only enjoins the lawsuit’s named defendants from enforcing SB 12. Defendants in the case were Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Montgomery County and its district attorney Brett Ligon, the City of Abilene, Taylor County and its assistant district attorney James Hicks, Travis County Attorney Delia Garza, and Bexar County District Attorney Joe D. Gonzales.
SB 12 was set to be enacted on September 1 before it was challenged in court. This suit was filed in Houston by Woodlands Pride, Abilene Pride Alliance, Extragrams LLC, 360 Queen Entertainment, and Austin drag personality Brigitte Bandit.
Hittner paused the law from going into effect for two weeks as he heard the case, which was later extended another two weeks, and then made permanent on Tuesday.
Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this month amid court challenges that he will continue to fight to ban sexual drag performances in front of children.
“Federal judge in Texas blocks a law I signed that bans sexually explicit drag shows in front of children,” Abbott tweeted. “This is absurd. We will fight to have this overturned & to protect our children from this indoctrination.”
This is not the first legal challenge Texas has faced in response to recently passed legislation, as reported by The Dallas Express. Other laws in legal limbo include restrictions on school libraries to prevent the purchase of books deemed sexually explicit, a ban on sex alteration surgeries for minors, and age-verification requirements for pornography websites.