LOF takes note of Florida's proposed "baggy pants" law, punts to constitutional types

Posted by Charles Colman

As LAW OF FASHION has learned from the always-informative Styleite, the Florida legislature is working to pass a bill that would make it unlawful for public-school students to wear their pants such that their underwear is visible.  Bewilderingly, local news coverage relies heavily on the wisdom of a Florida high school senior, who pontificates:


"You should dress appropriately for school. It's a business. It's the place training you to become the person you will be in life."

 

The student adds:


"People think it's a sense of fashion. It's not the fashion you need in life."


Fortunately, the public's ability to express itself through dress does not hinge on pronouncements from the Kool-Aid-stained mouths of high school students.  For one thing, the U.S. Constitution has a wee bit to say on the subject.  First Amendment case law, however, is a morass of balancing tests and arguably inconsistent rulings -- especially in the context of public school regulation, where courts have granted government actors significant leeway in restricting otherwise (potentially) protected expression.  LOF would canvas the relevant case law for you, but it's a Saturday afternoon, and besides, this writer is interested primarily in the intersection of the First Amendment and intellectual property laws.  Besides, the First Amendment Center has already done a great job of discussing the constitutional landscape on school dress codes.


On a related but unfashion-able note, what is it with Florida and civil rights (violations), anyway?  At least until a state appellate court ruling last year, Florida had the disgraceful distinction of being the only state in the country to statutorily forbid gay and lesbian individuals from adopting children.  (The story isn't quite over: although Florida's executive branch did not seek review of the appellate court's ruling by the state's highest court, it's possible that some misguided ideologue might seek to uphold the ban in a different part of the state, and that the Florida Supreme Court could ultimately rule on the the law's constitutionality.)  As Lambda Legal explains, other states have similar -- if very slightly less appalling -- bans.  But Florida's ban, which is still on the books, takes the cake.  Could it be the heat?