Bill banning baggy pants interferes with personal liberties, targets hip-hop culture

The ACLU of Virginia is asking state senators to vote down a bill banning pants worn too low. The bill, introduced by Delegate Algie Howell imposes a $50.00 fine on anyone who “intentionally wears and displays his below-waist undergarments, intended to cover a person's intimate parts, in a lewd or indecent manner.” It passed the House of Delegates earlier this week by a vote of 60-34.
“In a free society, there are simply some things too personal for government to regulate,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “and one of them is the style of our clothing.”
“This legislation is not about indecency,” added Willis. “Were that the case, we would be looking at a bill based on a documented a problem with indecency, defining indecency, and reasonably restricting it in a constitutionally permissible way. Instead, it is an attempt by the lawmakers to become the fashion police, eradicating the most recent teen fashion that offends them.”
The ACLU says it has received calls from media around the world-- from the BBC to the Los Angeles Times, to the Toronto Post -- asking about the bill.
“Mostly people are ridiculing the bill, getting a good laugh at the expense of the Virginia legislature,” added Willis. “But this measure could have serious consequences. First, it expands the role of government in a way that could lead to unprecedented regulation of our personal lives. Second, while the hip-hop culture has crossed racial boundaries in recent years, young African-American man are more likely to be affected by this bill than anyone else. This is not to say that patron of the bill was motivated by race, only that race is likely to be a factor in the implementation stage.”
The ACLU also maintains that the bill is constitutionally flawed. The Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause has been widely interpreted to protect personal liberties, that is, to prevent the government from placing restrictions on the choices people make about the most intimate aspects of their lives. A federal appeals court based in Virginia previously ruled that the state cannot regulate hair style or length. The bill is also too vague, failing to define the terms lewd and indecent.
The bill number is HB 1981. It has been assigned to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022