A federal court permanently enjoined Tennessee from enforcing a law mandating that businesses fasten signs outside bathrooms if they allow transgender people to use the facilities.

The law compelled private businesses to display a sign that "improperly privileges one highly contestable viewpoint over another" in violation of the First Amendment and other Supreme Court precedents, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee determined.

"The plaintiffs have explained, in detail and with evidence, why they do not wish to echo the government’s preferred characterization of their trans-inclusive policies. In response, the defendants, rather than taking those objections seriously, have suggested that the plaintiffs have merely 'imagined an idiosyncratic, hidden undertone to the signage,'" Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in the Tuesday ruling. "The only thing that is imaginary in this case, though, is the imagined consensus on issues of sex and gender on which the defendants seek to rely. Transgender Tennesseans are real."


In her ruling, Trauger cited a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law requiring reproductive healthcare centers including "crisis pregnancy centers" to distribute information about state programs that provided financial assistance for family planning services.

"The Supreme Court nevertheless held that the law violated the First Amendment because it, in effect, 'co-opt[ed] the [regulated] facilities to deliver its message' on the highly controversial topics of contraception and abortion," the court wrote. "The Supreme Court has expressly recognized that 'sexual orientation and gender identity' are among the 'controversial subjects' capable of raising such constitutional concerns."

Not all compelled speech is unconstitutional, Trauger emphasized, pointing to certain federal product labeling requirements. However, the bathroom signage was not for a commercial transaction, did not serve a "compelling interest," and could be perceived as an ideological statement, she noted.

"Public restrooms exist for the convenience of a business’s customers, not as the business’s actual product," she continued. "The Act, however, does not simply require a facility to accurately disclose its policies; it requires the facility to voice the government’s characterization of those policies. That characterization, moreover, is not itself simply some neutral, non-ideological statement."

If the law went into effect, failure to comply could have resulted in a Class B misdemeanor charge within 30 days of a business being warned it was breaking the law. This means businesses could have faced up to a $500 fine or even jail time. State Rep. Tim Rudd, a Republican who sponsored the bill, defended the legislation last year.

"Women and parents of a female child have a right to know if a man could be waiting on them in a restroom. They also have a right to know if a property owner's policies could give cover to sexual predators waiting to prey upon women and children," he said in a statement at the time, per Nashville Scene.


Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) signed the mandate into law last year, but the provision was quickly blocked by the court via a preliminary injunction, which intended to give the court time to evaluate the constitutionality ahead of a more permanent ruling, which came Tuesday. The case was brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union.