Three women will likely win their legal challenge of a Louisiana law aimed at establishing a minimum age of 21 for exotic dancers, a federal judge said in a Wednesday ruling that blocks enforcement of the 2016 legislation.
Lawmakers approved the law last year, with supporters saying it would help authorities fight human trafficking.
Three women, ages 18, 19 and 20, sued last fall, saying the law would cause them economic hardship and violate their right to freedom of expression.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued a temporary order blocking enforcement in October after the women’s attorneys argued that they shouldn’t be deprived of their livelihoods while the case was pursued. Wednesday’s 41-page ruling granting a preliminary injunction was stronger, saying that three dancers will likely win the lawsuit on grounds that the law is unconstitutionally vague, overly broad and harms the women by violating their First Amendment rights.
The injunction blocks enforcement pending trial or another court order while Barbier works toward a decision on the law’s constitutionality.
Enforcement of the law would fall to Juana Marine-Lombard, commissioner of the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. An emailed statement from her chief of staff, Ernest Legier Jr., said she will continue to postpone enforcement.
The law, also known as Act 395, makes 21 the minimum age for “entertainers whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to view” at entertainment venues serving alcohol.
That language is so vague that it could lead to confusion and arbitrary enforcement, the lawsuit says. Barbier noted that there is “inconsistency” in state law on just what defines illegal nudity and said the women would likely win the argument on unconstitutional vagueness.
Barbier said briefs in the case make it clear that the law “targets strip clubs and adult entertainment venues.” However, he said, the law itself is written so broadly that it could include any performance involving nudity, including a ballet or a play.
“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on their overbreadth claim because there is little doubt that Act No. 395 sweeps up a fair amount of constitutionally protected speech,” Barbier wrote.
Legier’s statement said Lombard does not believe the law is overbroad or vague.
“In fact, as the Commissioner previously stated, she does not interpret Act No. 395 as applying to venues such as theatres, ballets, or other mainstream performance arts venues where negative secondary effects such as human trafficking would be unlikely to occur,” the statement said.