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Florida appeals ruling that blocks drag show law

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Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is asking a federal appeals court to largely put on hold a ruling that blocked a new law aimed at preventing children from attending drag shows.

The state filed a motion Friday at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell of Orlando overstepped his powers when he issued a preliminary injunction that applied statewide against the law.

Presnell’s ruling came in a constitutional challenge filed by the Orlando restaurant Hamburger Mary’s.

The motion seeks a stay of the injunction while the DeSantis administration pursues an appeal at the Atlanta-based court. The motion, if granted, would allow the law to be enforced against establishments statewide, except against Hamburger Mary’s, which would continue to be shielded by the injunction.

“An injunction preventing enforcement of the statute against HM (Hamburger Mary’s) fully protects HM from any … harm,” said the motion, filed by lawyers in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office. “In granting broader relief, the district court irreparably harmed the state by ordering it to refrain from enforcing a duly enacted law designed to protect children from exposure to age-inappropriate, sexually explicit live performances.”

Presnell issued the injunction in June on First Amendment grounds and later rejected a similar motion by the state for a partial stay. He wrote that the state was trying to “neuter the court’s injunction” by having it apply only to Hamburger Mary’s.

“Protecting the right to freedom of speech is the epitome of acting in the public interest,” Presnell wrote in the July 19 rejection of a stay. “It is no accident that this freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment. This injunction protects plaintiff’s (Hamburger Mary’s) interests, but because the statute is facially unconstitutional, the injunction necessarily must extend to protect all Floridians.”

The law, which sponsors called the “Protection of Children Act,” would prevent venues from admitting children to adult live performances. It defines adult live performances as “any show, exhibition, or other presentation that is performed in front of a live audience, which, in whole or in part, depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or specific sexual activities, … lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

Hamburger Mary’s, which says it has run “family friendly” drag shows for 15 years, filed the lawsuit in May, and Presnell ruled June 23 that the law is not “sufficiently narrowly tailored” to meet First Amendment standards.

 

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