Texas Judge Upholds Under-21 Stripper Ban, Claims ‘Belief’ It May Curb ‘Human Trafficking’ Trumps 1st Amendment

AUSTIN — A U.S. District Court Judge in Texas has denied a proposed preliminary injunction against the recent state law preventing sex workers aged 18-21 from being employed at strip clubs and other “sexually oriented businesses.”

The denial by Judge Robert Pitman — including a questionable claim that the Texas legislators can go against constitutional protections if they have a mere “belief” that it may lead to curbing “human trafficking” — effectively upholds the new state law, S.B. 315, prohibiting the employment of people between the ages of 18 and 21 in adult businesses, defined by the Texas legislators as “sex parlor, nude studio, modeling studio, love parlor, adult bookstore, adult movie theater, adult video arcade, adult movie arcade, adult video store, adult motel or other commercial enterprise the primary business of which is the offering of a service or the selling, renting or exhibiting of devices or any other items intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to the customer.”

The four plaintiffs are “four young people between the ages of 18 and 20 years old, who have been laid off or fear losing their jobs because of Texas’s enactment of S.B. 315,” joined by the Texas Entertainment Association (TEA), described as “a non-profit organization that represents [sexually-oriented businesses] in Texas.”

Two of them, Feliz Valdez and Abigail Reyes, are described in court papers as “19-year-old clerks at New Fine Arts, an adult bookstore in Dallas, Texas that sells books, movies and ‘novelty’ items.”

Judge Pitman, a prominent Texas Democrat, denied the proposed injunction — a copy of which had mistakenly circulated last week with erroneous information that that law had been halted — alleging that “the State of Texas may not raise the minimum age for employment in businesses the legislature has deemed to be sexually-oriented.”

Judge Pitman’s introductory statement included several mentions of “human trafficking” and “human trafficking training,” even thought it is a labor discrimination case based on age and type of business.

Judge Pitman also stated, in his denial of the Plaintiff’s First Amendment standing, that “S.B. 315 codifies one of the [Texas Human Trafficking Prevention] Task Force’s legislative recommendations to curb human trafficking by raising the age of employment at sexually-oriented businesses from 18 to 21.”

“In the hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction,” Judge Pitman continued, “Plaintiffs made much of the fact that the Texas legislature did not rely on any studies showing that 18-to 20-year-olds who work at SOBs are more vulnerable to human trafficking than others. Yet the State ‘need not demonstrate through empirical data [. . .] that its regulation will reduce such trafficking,’ but instead must show that the State has a ‘reasonable belief that there is a link between the regulation and the curbing of the identified secondary effects.’”

The judge told the plaintiffs they had “failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment due process claims.”

First Amendment Expert: ‘This Is an Important Case’

First Amendment expert Lawrence Walters, from the Walters Law Group, told XBIZ that, “This is a difficult decision on an important and developing legal issue for adult entertainment establishments. Fortunately, it is only a preliminary decision which can be appealed or challenged at trial.”

Walters opined that “the plaintiff may be able to eventually demonstrate that the state did not meet its burden of proving a substantial governmental interest justifying the broad age restriction, or that the statute was not narrowly tailored to meet any such interest.”

“This is an important case to follow as state and local governments use the issue of trafficking to infringe on more and more constitutional rights of adults,” Walters concluded.

Main Image: Judge Robert Pitman

Denial of Injunction Against Under-21 Work at Sexually Oriented Businesses

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