Supreme Court won’t let Florida enforce anti-drag law

The US Supreme Court has rejected Florida’s attempts to enforce state law restricting drag performances in the state, landing a crucial blow against Republican-led efforts across the US targeting LGBT+ Americans.

A decision from the nation’s highest court on 16 November prohibits Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration from enforcing recently enacted state law that makes it a crime for children to view what the state broadly defined as “adult live performance.”

In a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, a restaurant chain that features family-friendly drag performances said the law would “explicitly restrict or chill speech and expression protected by the First Amendment.”

A federal judge blocked the law in June, issuing a decision labelling the legislation “dangerously susceptible to standardless, overbroad enforcement which could sweep up substantial protected speech.”

Florida appealed to the Supreme Court to tempotarily block that court’s ruling while the state waits for an appeals court decision. Conservative justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined the high court’s liberal justices to deny the state’s request.

Conservative justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

As is typical for such orders, the court did not provide a reasoning.

But a statement from Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Barrett, explained that Florida’s request did not raise the First Amendment argument, thus the court’s decision on Thursday “indicates nothing about our view on whether Florida’s new law violated the First Amendment.”

Rather, Florida’s challenge was directed at the scope of relief from the federal court ruling, which prohibits the state from enforcing its law against the plaintiff, Hamburger Mary’s, as well as other parties that aren’t involved in the litigation.

The case “is therefore an imperfect vehicle for considering the general question of whether a district court may enjoin a government from enforcing a law against non-parties to the litigation,” the justices wrote. “For that reason, the Court is not likely to grant certiorari on that issue in this particular case. In sum, because this Court is not likely to grant certiorari on the only issue presented in Florida’s stay application, it is appropriate for the Court to deny the application.”

Civil rights groups and LGBT+ advocates across the US have warned that such laws are unconstitutionally singling out drag performance as part of a coordinated campaign among Republican officials and anti-LGBT+ state lawmakers to limit or erase LGBT+ people from public life.

Opponents also fear that such laws could be selectively enforced to criminalize transgender and nonbinary people.

Several recent federal court decisions have struck down similar laws in other states, including a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block a similarly sweeping Montana law as well as a Texas ruling against the state’s drag ban that “impermissibly infringes on the First Amendment and chills free speech” and will “irreparably harm” drag performers and LGBT+ groups and venues that host them.

A federal judge in Tennessee also blocked measure targeting public drag performances, similarly arguing that the law likely violates the First Amendment rights of performers.