Saggy Pants and the Constitution
By Jacqui Craig
This blurp of news provides more comic relief than anything, but the break is a welcomed one amidst studying and exam woes. The principles underlying the article are indeed basic to our Constitution.
In March 2008, nearly three quarters of the population in Riviera Beach approved an ordinance banning saggy pants; an attempt to prevent pants worn so low as to reveal underwear and/or “backside” areas. While the passing of the law is both shocking and humorous, its infringement on basic constitutional rights and underlying implications are not. I was surprised to find Riviera Beach is far from alone in this line of thinking; counties across the nation are considering or have already passed similar laws. A bill proposed in Kentucky, if passed, would fine offenders $1,000 simply for wearing their pants below a specified point, approximately the waistline.
Once baggy pants were officially outlawed in Riviera Beach, a peculiar trend arose. Within just a few months, eleven males were arrested, all of whom were of the same gender and race. Reports from various counties enacting the baggy pants law, and some videos of officers enforcing the ordinance, show officers approaching individuals even when their shirts were covering up the boxer shorts and pants. The arresting officers would raise the shirt and then ticket or arrest the offender. It’s not hard to see a blatant Terry issue here, protecting against unreasonable search and seizure. For further evidence the law may be an attempt at racial profiling, see the individuals arrested in violation of the Riviera Beach ordinance: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/0911081baggy1.html..
The constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment is not the only issue at stake. The United States Constitution does not endorse this sense of “fashion policing” where the fashion being policed fails to constitute indecent exposure. I may not care for some of the fashion sense I am inevitably exposed to, but how a person chooses to wear his or her clothes is a freedom of expression within the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has shown that freedom may only be inhibited if it is intended to and is likely to cause “imminent, lawless action.”
While I may not appreciate the attire of all, I appreciate my First Amendment rights. And I certainly appreciate that any governmental attempt to infringe those rights without satisfying the impositions placed on it by both the Constitution and its interpretation in the Supreme Court, is unlawful. Riviera Beach couldn’t show the wearing of baggy pants is intended to an will likely produce imminent, lawless action, and the ordinance was struck down.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized