Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected Florida’s plea to counter an order blocking a recent law barring minors from attending drag shows. Despite Florida’s request for intervention coming as early as October, a significant grid of the high court upheld the decision to leave the order uninterrupted.
This entire controversy began with Hamburger Mary’s, a well-liked restaurant chain in Florida, taking legal action against the state last summer. Their contention was that the newly instituted ‘Florida’s Protection of Children Act’ had an overreaching scope and impinged upon the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
The aforementioned Protective Act, sanctioned by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May, presented a foundational shift in the way the state’s youth could interact with ‘adult performances.’ Precluding any knowing admission of a child to events of this nature became the law of the land in Florida.
An interesting perspective that arises from this saga is the political angle: how do we interpret adult performances which, according to Governor DeSantis, tend to sexualize young children? Drawn into the controversy is the broad definition of the ‘Protection of Children Act’, which has implications for both the present and future legislations.
The crux of the Act lays out the prohibition of anyone consciously admitting a child into an ‘adult live performance’ – defined, in particular, as a depiction or imitation of nudity, sexual conduct, or explicit sexual activities. This would include any display which is ‘distinctly offensive’ by the prevalent adult community standards concerning the appropriateness for the attending child’s age.
Ensuing from Hamburger Mary’s lawsuit, Judge Gregory Presnell, stationed in central Florida and nominated by former President Bill Clinton, favored the restaurant chain by granting it an injunction in June, halting the state from implementing the law.
A key aspect of Presnell’s decree was his enlightened stance that while drag shows could be seen as less than savory by certain sections of society, they are not invariably indecent. He wishfully remarked, ‘Existing obscenity laws provide [the state] with the necessary authority to protect children from any constitutionally unprotected obscene exhibitions or shows.’
In his judgement, Presnell also highlighted that the detriment to Hamburger Mary’s from this law evidently supersedes any hypothetical malfeasance that isn’t covered by the existing laws of Florida. The judge suggested that an interim injunction would not pose a threat to the public’s interest.
The state’s plea for a suspension of Presnell’s verdict was thrown out by a split vote in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Turning to the Supreme Court for intervention, the state’s regulatory official, Melanie Griffin, requested a provisional stay while preparing an appeal in October.
The restaurant establishment argued that many of their performing artists also perform at other venues across the state, and would have to curtail their performances elsewhere to uphold the law if the restriction only included Hamburger Mary’s. Their attorneys expressed concerns about becoming the lone business in Florida where artists can enjoy their First Amendment rights.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision on this case, it is worth noting that the court has noticeably been at odds with President Joe Biden, often ruling against his proposed policies. Furthermore, it seems like the Supreme Court could become an obstacle in Biden’s endeavour to take the nation further into progressive terrain.
Biden’s proposed increased taxation on ‘the wealthy,’ alongside his grand plan for student loan forgiveness, may soon be put to a halt. His $430-billion-plus student loan forgiveness was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Additionally, the Supreme Court will take up several cases this fall that could potentially restrain the reach of the administrative arm of the federal government. One key case to look out for is the review of the constitutional validity of federal agencies accumulating funds outside of congressional oversight and appropriations.
All told, whether it’s cultural regulations or fiscal policies, the robust and independent judiciary continues to ensure America’s commitment to principles of democracy and constitutional law. It does so by constantly challenging and maintaining checks and balances of the executive arm. The Florida law case and its potential ramifications on the First Amendment were just the latest in a series of such democratic engagements.