Tennessee Judge Extends Restraining Order on Drag Ban

Tennessee Judge Extends Restraining Order on Drag Ban

BYJoan SummersApr 06, 2023

It seems the drag ban in Tennessee won't be as simple as many Republican lawmakers initially believed.

The Advocatereports that a federal judge has extended a temporary restraining order on the controversial anti-drag bill, Senate Bill 3, which passed in March. According to an attorney who represents the drag theater group Friends of George's, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker issued an extension on a restraining order put in place Friday that will last until May 26. It comes after the theatre group filed a lawsuit against the state for violating a right to free speech.

On Twitter, the Memphis based group wrote, "Thank you for being a Friend of George's!"

In the restraining order, which The Advocate shared via Google Docs, the judge concluded: "The Court is mindful that a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) is an extraordinary remedy, and that enjoining enforcement of the Statute precludes, or at least delays, the Tennessee General Assembly’s legislative act. The Court does not take such actions lightly." The order continues:

But within our country’s federal framework, states are laboratories of democracy that can test laws and policies enacted by ThePeople. Even still, these experiments are not without constraints. The United States Constitution—a law that is supreme even to the Tennessee General Assembly’s acts—has placed some issues beyond the reach of the democratic process. First among them is the freedom of speech. If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution.The Court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this Statute, it missed the mark.

In essence, Judge Parker said that while the bill was put to a vote by the Tennessee General Assembly, it exceeds the legislative body's ability to restrict certain acts of speech, which drag is considered in a legal sense. The news comes amid waves of protests and outrage across the country over the bill, and Republican lawmakers efforts to legislate trans people, drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community out of public life more broadly.

A trial date for the suit has been scheduled for May 22, just days before the extension on the temporary restraining order is set to expire. While nothing is certain just yet, it's a good sign that the court is amenable to arguments that the State Assembly bypassed Constitutional protections when drafting the bill.

In response to the news, GLAAD posted on Twitter: "Drag is art - and here to stay." Likewise, a tweet from earlier this week, Friends of George's also wrote that "FOG is dedicated to championing the freedom of expression for not only ourselves but for everyone across TN. We stand in solidarity with all drag performers, the LGBTQIA+ community & our allies as we continue the fight for justice self-expression & the pursuit of happiness."

Photo via Mickey Bernal/Getty.