Virginia Senate Panel Kills Controversial Pants Bill That Elicited Worldwide Ridicule

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
February 10, 2005 12:00 am

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Rare Emergency Meeting Used to Dispense with Legislation Banning Showing of Underpants

RICHMOND, VA–The Virginia Senate has quietly and sheepishly killed a bill that in recent days had become an international joke, the American Civil Liberties of Virginia said today. The bill, which passed the House of Delegates earlier this week on a 60-34 vote, imposed a $50 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.”

After calling a rare special meeting of the Courts of Justice Committee solely for the purpose of addressing this bill, senators admitted today that they had been embarrassed by the public’s reaction and quickly voted to dismiss the controversial measure. The committee’s vote was unanimous.

“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.”

In recent days, the ACLU of Virginia had 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 had it become law, the consequences could have been serious, as it would have expanded the role of the government in an unprecedented way, allowing lawmakers to become the fashion police.”

“Also, while hip-hop culture has crossed racial boundaries in recent years, young African American men were more likely than anyone else to be affected by the law. This is not to say that the patron of the bill was motivated by race, but race surely would have been a factor as the law was put into use.”

The ACLU of Virginia had warned legislators that the bill was 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.

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