A federal judge issued an injunction Wednesday blocking enforcement of a Louisiana law banning strip clubs from having exotic dancers younger than 21.
The ruling extends an earlier temporary restraining order that's been in effect while a challenge to the law brought by a group of dancers plays out in court.
The new order is another victory for the state’s adult entertainment industry, which has portrayed the ban as a threat to young dancers’ livelihoods and to freedom of expression.
“Because plaintiffs have made a clear showing that they are entitled to the relief they request on grounds that Act No. 395 is unconstitutionally overbroad and unconstitutionally vague, the court finds that the motion for a preliminary injunction ... should be granted,” U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier wrote.
However, some champions of the ban were heartened by another portion of Barbier’s ruling, which found that legislators had a “reasonable basis” for believing that the law would help end human trafficking. He also faulted the dancers for failing to prove that the law would not at least help solve that problem.
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Although getting a preliminary injunction is only the second step in a three-step process that could end in Barbier permanently striking down the law, it was still good news for the three dancers who challenged the statute in September.
It came despite support for the ban from Attorney General Jeff Landry, who intervened in the case to represent the state, and other proponents who argue that strip clubs can be a gateway to human trafficking and prostitution.
State lawmakers approved Act 395 last year after advocates pointed to the 2015 death of 19-year-old dancer Jasilas Wright, who was left for dead on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man police said was her pimp.
Critics also cited sanctions issued that year to several strip clubs by State Police and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, which accused the businesses of being magnets for drugs and prostitution.
A similar law was passed in New Orleans in light of those same events, though that law applied only to new dancers younger than 21, not those already employed. It was superseded by the state law.
Louisiana strip clubs will be barred from hiring dancers under the age of 21, under a new la…
The state ban went into effect in most of the state on Aug. 1 and was due to go into effect in New Orleans on Oct. 1. However, three anonymous dancers sued a week before then, accusing the state of depriving them of their right to express themselves under the state and federal constitutions.
The ban also is too broad, discriminates based on age and gender, and affects dancers’ ability to support themselves financially, they said.
Barbier agreed with them on the financial point in his earlier temporary block of the ban.
Landry stepped in later, arguing that the ban doesn’t completely rob younger dancers of their freedom, as they may still dance nude in businesses that don’t serve alcohol or dance in bikinis in businesses that do.
Overturning the law would also “hamper the state’s legitimate interest in curtailing the negative secondary effects associated with the combustible combination of alcohol and live nude conduct,” Landry said.
Barbier’s latest ruling considers those and other objections and ultimately sides with the dancers on some of their arguments.
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The law is overbroad because under it, nude performers would be banned from participating in live theater or other productions, not just in strip clubs, Barbier said. The law also is too vague, he said, because it fails to clearly define the phrase “breasts or buttocks exposed to view,” which leads to confusion about how much of a dancer’s buttocks or breasts must be “in view” to trigger the ban.
He said the dancers are likely to succeed at a full trial on both of those claims.
Barbier also granted the injunction because he said younger dancers would be more harmed by the law's enforcement than the state would be by its suspension, and because the dancers are alleging that their constitutional rights have been violated.
But he did agree with the state on some points. When passing a law that is intended to solve a problem, state lawmakers are not required to prove that the law will eliminate the problem entirely, he said, and the dancers didn’t offer enough proof that the ban wouldn’t at least limit the problem of human trafficking.
In a win for Louisiana’s adult entertainment industry, a federal judge has ruled that Louisi…
That was enough for Covenant House leader Jim Kelly to claim a partial victory.
“I think the big news is that he sees the need for legislation to protect 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. So overall, I’m pleased,” he said, adding that 40 percent of the trafficking victims who come through Covenant House, a shelter for homeless young people, worked in strip clubs.
On the other side, Tim Spratt of Kirkendoll Management, which runs the Penthouse Clubs in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and Ann Kesler, the general manager for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Deja Vu and Barely Legal, three clubs in the French Quarter, both praised the ruling.
“I think that’s how it should be,” Kesler said. “It’s sad that these entertainers even have to prove that they should be able to dance.”
Update, 3/9/17: A spokeswoman from Attorney General Jeff Landry's office said he plans to appeal Barbier's latest ruling, and work with state lawmakers to make the ban more specific, if necessary.