Recently, Wildwood, NJ passed an ordinance banning the wearing of overly saggy pants on the boardwalk.
Its passage was sparked by complaints by several visitors about having to see people’s backsides hanging out in public.
The law is set to take effect on July 2, 2013. A first-time conviction for violating the local law will result in a $25 fine. However, subsequent violations could result in a fine as high as $200 and a penalty of up to 40 hours of community service.
Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. revealed that “[t]his is just adding a little bit of decency to our town.” He said lightheartedly, “It’s amazing—and this is a pun—how far decency has fallen through the cracks.”
According to Fox News, the law passed unanimously and many residents supported it.
According to one, “It’s long overdue … People who choose to dress like that offend any person. There has to be some common standard of decency. It offends all of us.”
Similarly, bathing suits are already prohibited on the Wildwood boardwalk unless they are covered up by other clothing.
As of now, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has declined to take a position on the law, but other ACLU chapters around the country have said such laws are unconstitutional.
The mayor defended the law by saying, “We’re not going to be out there with a tape measure … But we know what’s right and not right. If we don’t make an attempt to clean our town up, who’s going to?”
Civil libertarians believe the law is unconstitutional and predict it will be overturned if challenged in court.
The law itself presents several constitutional problems that will need to be addressed after the bill is enforced.
For starters, it might be “overbroad” and “void for vagueness.” Essentially, the law might prohibit conduct it never set out to and be so vague in its actual application that it cannot be constitutional.
Additionally, a smart civil libertarian could claim that the law violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and discriminates against a class of people (i.e. those who wear saggy pants). If a person could prove that the law is not reasonably related to a legitimate government interest (i.e. public decency), a court would have no choice but to strike it down.
Likewise, if the law turns out to be targeting a specific racial class, then it would have to be narrowly related to a compelling government interest. In almost all cases nation-wide, if it was clearly shown to be targeting a specific racial class, then it would be struck down.
Lastly, the law also seems to challenge an individual’s right to self-expression. Is one’s desire to avoid seeing saggy pants greater than another’s right to wear the clothing of his choice?
Only time will tell whether this bill can truly be considered constitutional or not.