“Any year I’m up here, I will continue to file this legislation,” he said. “I’ll continue to fight for kids and to protect them from this type of grotesque, sexually explicit entertainment.”
Though, when asked about the “drag show law,” Johnson was blunt. “[It] has nothing to do with drag shows.”
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Whatever you want to call it, it’s currently in flux after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional.
“Of course, it’s about drag,” Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) said. “We know that because of the messaging that’s been built around it and when people are being honest, they say that it is indeed, of course, about drag.”
Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has promised an appeal.
“The law does not prohibit drag shows,” he said before the judge put the law on hold. “What it prohibits is drag shows that are harmful to children.”
Skrmetti’s office said Monday it had “nothing further to add at this point” when asked for a timeline on the appeal.
Though Johnson and Skrmetti said it’s not a drag show ban, critics argue the language is clearly aimed at that community.
Democrats argue that leaves the language way too broad and allows local officials who are against drag to outlaw it.
“The law is obviously meant just to be hateful because the obscenity statute already covers this,” Campbell said. “So, what it’s really done is have a chilling effect on our LGBTQ community and our vibrant drag community.”
Johnson fired back on that notion, saying the bill closes a loophole that allows drag shows that are ‘harmful to minors’ on public property or, as the bill reads, ‘in a location where the adult cabaret entertainment could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.’
The ruling technically only affects Shelby County, but district attorneys will likely take caution in taking a case where a judge has already ruled a law unconstitutional.
“Let me be very clear that, should a DA choose not to prosecute our law, the Attorney General has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to go in and prosecute those people who violate the law,” Johnson said.
“Absolutely not, no. We’re not going to let the courts dictate what public policy is in the state of Tennessee,” Johnson said. “That’s up to the duly, constitutionally-elected members of the General Assembly. I remind you, this particular federal district court judge was not elected, is not accountable to the people of Tennessee. He was appointed and he was confirmed by the United States Senate.”
For some context, Skrmetti, appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court (who is appointed by the governor), recently dictated the law when he agreed to a deal with a far-right California gun lobbyist group.
The group had pressed a lawsuit against Tennessee’s open carry law, which constituted that only those 21 and older could openly carry a gun. Skrmetti’s deal dropped that to 18.
“At the end of the day, it should be the legislature that makes the law except where the Constitution clearly limits the ability of the government to regulate,” he said.