A ruling from an appeals court on Wednesday has upheld an injunction on a Florida law that bans drag shows in the state, temporarily preventing officials from enforcing the statute.
A three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals considered but ultimately rejected arguments from the state that sought to make the law enforceable while the appeals process played out, as a district court found this past summer that the statute, which bans drag shows in Florida at venues where children could be present, was overbroad and unconstitutional.
A 2-1 decision from a panel of the 11th Circuit Court found that the injunction was justified. “The potential harms from reversing the injunction outweigh those of leaving it in place by mistake. … There is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech,” they wrote in their ruling.
Meanwhile, potential harms against the state in allowing the injunction to remain were minimal, the judges noted, as there are no pending cases relating to the statute and the government “can enforce obscenity laws already on the books.”
A dissenting judge in the case said that he would have allowed the injunction to be lifted, ordering it to apply to a single restaurant that sued the state but not to the rest of Florida.
Legal observers were somewhat surprised by the ruling, as the 11th Circuit frequently rules to uphold anti-LGBTQ legislation. The appeals court has, for example, upheld state bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth as well as discriminatory bathroom legislation.
The state could appeal the ruling again, if it wishes to do so, either in an en banc case that would seek the opinion of all judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Arguments that the law has a chilling effect on free speech are compelling, as several event organizers in the state have canceled their programs (including a number of Pride parades) out of fear that the law, which was passed earlier this year, would be enforced against them.
In May, Hamburger Mary’s, an Orlando restaurant that features weekly family-friendly drag performances, sued the state over the law. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell ruled in favor of the restaurant in June, and in July Presnell extended his order to block enforcement of the statute throughout the whole state.
“The balance of harms weighs heavily in favor of protecting Floridians from this unconstitutional statute,” Presnell said in that ruling.
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