A federal judge temporarily blocked a new Tennessee law that would force businesses to put up warning signs if they allow customers to use restrooms that don’t match their recorded gender at birth.
The ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in Nashville is an early victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued on behalf of business owners who say the law is a pointless assault on transgender Tennesseans.
Trauger rejected Tennesee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s argument that a ruling blocking the measure during the lawsuit was unnecessary because the wording of the proposed sign is merely a statement of fact that isn’t controversial. The judge said she could apply “common sense” to that claim.
“Of course the signs required by the act are statements about the nature of sex and gender and the role of transgender individuals in society,” the judge said -- but they’re not uncontroversial. “Justice is blind, but the court does not have to play dumb.”
A press contact for Slatery, a Republican whose office represents the state defendants, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The ACLU had argued that the required sign would violate the constitutional right to free speech by forcing businesses to communicate government-mandated messages they disagree with. Trauger blasted the state defendants in a footnote for suggesting such a First Amendment claim was invalid because it was based on an “unfounded opinion.”
“Apparently the defendants mean to suggest that the First Amendment protection against compelled speech only recognizes the need to protect points of view that are ‘widely accepted,’” the judge said. “The version of the First Amendment envisioned by the defendants -- one reserved for ‘widely accepted’ opinions -- is certainly new to this court.”
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