Minimum age for exotic dancers at issue in US appeals court
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the questions before federal judges considering a Louisiana law that sets a minimum age of 21 for exotic dancers: Does state law adequately cover the issue of what a dancer has to keep covered?
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by three women — ages 18, 19 and 20 when the suit was filed — who say the minimum age law caused them economic hardship and violated their freedom of expression.
The law, known as Act 395, makes 21 the minimum age for “entertainers whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to view” at venues serving alcohol.
Lawmakers said the law will keep young women from falling prey to drug use and human trafficking.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier last year blocked enforcement of the 2016 law, saying it was unconstitutionally broad — so broad that it could be interpreted to prohibit some theater or ballet performances. He also said state law defining what constitutes illegal nudity is inconsistent.
Scott Bergthold, arguing for the state attorney general’s office, said the law is clear and has not resulted in any confusion.
Judges Edith Brown Clement and Leslie Southwick questioned Bergthold about the vagueness. Clement at one point noted that a bikini would provide sufficient coverage under state law.
But “there are lots of different size women,” she said. Depending on the style and size, and how much it must cover, remains in question, she said.
Attorney General Jeff Landry and Juana Marine-Lombard, commissioner of the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, are defending the law and seeking to overturn Barbier’s decision.
Arguing for the women, attorney Jeremy Grabill said Barbier was correct in ruling that the law is overbroad. He said it’s an issue the Legislature will have to revisit.
“It’s not this court’s job to rewrite the statute,” he said.
Grabill didn’t agree with the entirety of Barbier’s ruling.
While Barbier said the law was overbroad and vague, he also said the state had a legitimate interest in attempting to curb human trafficking. He said the minimum age law could be construed as a reasonable attempt to do so, rejecting the women’s arguments that the law violated their First Amendment rights.
Grabill said that aspect of Barbier’s ruling should be reversed.
Although the case has been progressing through the court system since late 2016, the hearing comes, coincidentally, as the state has cracked down on strip clubs in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Several venues lost their state alcoholic beverage permits recently.
Police said at a news conference last week that they found evidence of drug sales and prostitution at some venues. The shutdown sparked a backlash — protests from women who say the crackdown has denied them their ability to make a living.