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A Constitutional Right to Wear Saggy Pants? Some Say New Ban Could Violate First Amendment


"I'm not saying it's aimed to target blacks, but eventually I think it will."

It started last week when the city council of Collinsville, Ill. voted 3-2 to outlaw saggy pants. By the new ordinance, wearing pants that hang below the waistline is illegal, punishable by a $100 fine and community service for the first offense, and a $300 fine and more community service for repeat offenders. Now, a law professor is saying the city's ban could be a violation of the First Amendment and others say it could even lead to racial profiling. Southern Illinois University professor Cheryl Anderson told St. Louis Today the ban could open the city up to lawsuits. "You can argue that wearing clothes is an expressive act, and that the First Amendment protects expressive acts," Anderson said. "Most cities who have talked about these ordinances have backed away from this because of all the litigation to sort out." Area attorney Thomas Falb, who specializes in civil rights cases, agreed, saying the ban is distinctly unfair. "It strikes me as something being suspiciously unconstitutional," Falb said. "If I had a client arrested, [filing a lawsuit] would be the first thing I would do." City Councilwoman Liz Dalton proposed the law after she said she received complaints from citizens about people wearing their pants too low, exposing their underwear. Collinsville Mayor John Miller opposed the measure and was one of the two votes against it.

In the wake of the measure's passage, others expressed concern about how it will be enforced, with police seemingly able to pick and choose whom they cite. The sagging trend began in the 1990s and was associated with young black men, although is not exclusive to any particular group today. "I think it creates more police interaction for young black men based not on the evidence that they're involved in some sort of criminal activity but based purely and simply on what they're wearing," Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union told St. Louis Today. "And frankly, it creates more hostility between the police and a segment of the community that already feels targeted and besieged. Rev. Avery Duff, pastor of the New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, a historically black church in Collinsville, agreed. "I'm not saying it's aimed to target blacks, but eventually I think it will," Duff said. "You're not going to see the middle-aged, middle-income white guy wearing sagging pants."

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