Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Local Governments Going After Saggy Pants-Wearers

Municipalities across the South, most recently in Tennessee, have cited concerns for the health of their residents — among other reasons — in expansions of local public indecency laws to include people whose pants droop well below their waist.

However, although some chiropractors and “posture experts” have warned the public of health issues associated with sagging, there doesn’t appear to be much conclusive evidence in support of that claim.

An ordinance approved June 30 by the City Council of Pikeville suggests evidence exists “that indicates that wearing sagging pants is injurious to the health of the wearer as it causes improper gait.”

According to language in the ordinance, the state public indecency law “allows for some behavior that is considered indecent.” Sagging pants fit the definition, Mayor Phil Cagle told TNReport Monday, although he said the ordinance is meant to give cops authority to arrest people for wearing “anything that’s considered indecent.”

“It wasn’t passed just for saggy britches, we just added that to it because we were getting — some of that looked like it was getting started here, and all you could do is just ask them to pull their pants up,” Cagle said.

He added that the city just wanted to pass a stiffer rule than what the state already has on the books. The only significant difference between the Tennessee Code language and the Pikeville ordinance, which resembles several other laws passed in towns throughout Alabama, Louisiana, FloridaGeorgia and Mississippi, is the inclusion of  an express declaration that  “the exposure of a person’s buttocks, and genital area or undergarments is offensive and indecent.”

Cagle said that they used an ordinance “almost word for word” brought to him by the Pikeville City Attorney from a law previously passed by a Georgia city.

The definition for indecent exposure of undergarments is provided as anyone “wearing pants or skirts more than three inches below the top of the hips.” The ordinance requires a fine of at least $25 for an initial offense, and up to $50 for each subsequent offense.

Cagle said that in the month since the law went into effect, the Pikeville police haven’t had to write a single citation for public indecency. “We haven’t even had to give a warning yet,” he said. The initial passage of the law by Pikeville garnered widespread media attention, including from  The Daily Mail, The Independent, and Huffington Post.

South Pittsburgh’s city council also recently indicated an interest in passing their own legal requirement for higher waistlines when City Commissioner Jimmy Wigfall suggested at a meeting that they could use “some type of ordinance where you can only sag just so low or something.” The City Attorney told commission members that he would review other towns’ ordinances and have something for them at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 12.

Although laws targeting sagging have been around since at least 2007, the wording related to “the health of the wearer,” seems to have first appeared in an ordinance passed by the city council of Dublin, Ga., in late 2010.

No source is given in the law for the claim that drooping waistlines can cause injury to the wearer, but Cagle told TNReport that there were studies and articles on the internet that offered the same evidence.

In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill — sponsored in the Senate by Ophelia Ford and in the House by Joe Towns Jr., both Memphis Democrats — that prohibited students from exposing undergarments through sagging, as well as requiring that sports bras be covered if “deemed inappropriate by school officials.” However, specific punishments were not included in the final bill that passed the legislature in 2012. Instead, individual school districts were given the authority to determine punishment for the infraction.

Towns told the Associated Press at the time that he hoped the law would encourage kids to dress better.

Additionally, in April of 2012, an Alabama judge sentenced a man to serve three days in jail for contempt of court for sagging in the courtroom where he was entering a plea on charges of receiving stolen property.

However, there is some question to the constitutionality of laws requiring that a person’s bottoms be a certain distance from their hips. According to Neil Richards, a professor of law at Washington University, these laws don’t fare well when challenged on First Amendment grounds. And the ACLU has been known to challenge similar laws on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Challenges to the laws go back several years, including a similar law in Florida that was ruled unconstitutional by a Florida Circuit Court judge in 2008 because of the case’s “limited facts,” after a 17-year-old Riviera Beach boy spent a night in jail on accusations of exposing too much underwear.