Supreme Court Blocks Florida Law Banning Kids From Drag Shows
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Florida law that bans child access to drag shows, saying it violates First Amendment free speech rights.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his supporters enacted the law to protect children from what they consider corrupt influences.
The law approved by the Florida Legislature this year makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly admit a child to a sexually explicit adult live performance that would be considered obscene based on the child’s age.
The Protection of Children Act says the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation “may fine, suspend or revoke the license of any public lodging establishment or public food service establishment if the establishment admits a child to an adult live performance.”
The most controversial part of the law defines an adult live performance as shows that are “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community of this state as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for the age of the child present.”
U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell’s ruling said, “It is this vague language — dangerously susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech.”
The judge issued an injunction against enforcement of the law. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ruling after an appeal by Florida’s attorney general.
In a second appeal to the Supreme Court, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said the law was not intended to infringe free speech but to “prevent the exposure of children to sexually explicit live performances.”
The Supreme Court agreed with both of the lower court decisions in granting a stay against the law. The justices ordered the 11th Circuit to revise its ruling based on evidence presented to the Supreme Court.
A stay is a temporary measure intended to block enforcement until other underlying legal issues can be resolved. The case could come before the Supreme Court again but only after what is expected to be months of lower court proceedings.
A DeSantis spokesperson expressed hope in a statement that a second round of proceedings would be more favorable toward the law.
“While we are disappointed in this particular ruling, the Supreme Court did not opine on the merits of our law protecting children from sexualized adult live performances,” the statement said. “This case is still pending appeal at the 11th Circuit, and we expect this law to be upheld on the merits.”
When DeSantis signed the law in May, he said, “As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy.”
The law was challenged by an Orlando restaurant called Hamburger Mary’s that hosts drag shows with comedy and dancing during brunches. The owners said the law hurt their business.
Conservative Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the ruling Thursday. They said they believed the law should have been allowed.