Florida’s drag ban has suffered a second legal defeat as a federal judge refused to allow the law to go back into effect after an earlier ruling placed a temporary injunction against it.
In late June, federal Judge Gregory Presnell issued the injunction after the restaurant chain Hamburger Mary’s, which features drag waitresses and family-friendly drag performances, successfully sued Florida over the law, saying it harmed its business and violated its constitutional free speech rights.
DeSantis likes to say that “Florida is where woke goes to die.” His home state is also becoming a graveyard for his presidential ambitions.
Florida officials asked the court to limit its ruling to just Hamburger Mary’s, allowing its law to ban drag in every other venue across the state. The officials claimed that the court lacked the authority to apply its ruling to other businesses not involved in Hamburger Mary’s lawsuit and said that a statewide injunction would cause “irreparable harm” in Florida.
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However, Presnell refused. In his Wednesday ruling, he said the law creates an “unnecessary risk of chilling free speech,” restricting First Amendment free speech across the state, ClickOrlando.com reported. He also said that it’s unlikely that any “irreparable harm” will be caused while the law is blocked since Florida already has obscenity laws to protect children from seeing sexually explicit live performances.
“[The state’s] suggestion that any other harmed parties should bear the cost and delay of litigating their free speech rights simply does not comport with First Amendment principles,” Presnell wrote in his ruling. “All of these harms weigh heavily in favor of protecting non-parties from enforcement of this unconstitutional statute.”
In his original late June ruling, Presnell called the drag ban “vague and overbroad,” pointing out that the law’s text bans any “lewd” “live performance” without defining what either term means. As a result, the judge said, “A live performance… could conceivably range from a sold-out burlesque show to a skit at a backyard family barbecue,” adding that businesses “cannot know with any confidence whether its shows will expose it to liability under the Act.”
The ban, signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on May 17, allows the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation to revoke the business licenses of any venues that allow minors to see drag performances, even if their parents consent, as well as issue $5,000 and $10,000 fines against the business. Anyone who violates the law can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor.
Presnell’s original ruling also pointed out that any concern about the law protecting children “rings hollow” seeing as state law “permits any minor to attend an R-rated film at a movie theater if accompanied by a parent or guardian.”
Florida officials are appealing the ruling. DeSantis has made Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws a centerpiece in his flailing bid to become president. Recently, he promised to reinstate a ban on transgender military members if he becomes president. However, polling suggests that DeSantis won’t win the Republican primary for the party’s presidential nomination.
In early June, another federal judge overturned Tennessee’s drag ban, saying that the drag ban’s purpose was to violate “constitutionally-protected speech.”