SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — City leaders plan to weigh the consequences of creating a sagging pants law against the financial implications should the statute be challenged in court.
In July, City Commissioner Jimmy Wigfall asked City Attorney Billy Gouger to investigate the possibility of South Pittsburg adopting an ordinance outlawing sagging pants.
Gouger said Tuesday that Pikeville, Tenn., has the only ordinance of that kind in Tennessee.
“It’s based on guidelines that [the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service] provided to them, and those, in turn, are based on various ordinances that have been adopted in and around Atlanta and a city in Florida,” he said.
The rules were added to Pikeville’s indecent exposure codes, which are similar to South Pittsburg’s, Gouger said.
MTAS officials are urging any municipality considering a sagging pants ordinance to be cautious.
Pikeville’s measure “identifies attire where more than three inches of undergarment is displayed,” Gouger said. “You have to be careful how you word it in order to make it legally enforceable.”
The “big caution” MTAS is considering, though, is the potential for a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, Gouger said.
“The ACLU has been looking for a test case to challenge these ordinances,” he said. “They see them as being highly discriminatory and racial profiling. Their position is they serve no other purpose than to deter a particular group from wearing the attire of their choice.”
Wigfall said he doesn’t believe sagging pants are an “ethnic thing” because it started as a prison-related act.
“So if we adopt the same thing Pikeville’s got, we both can be sued,” he said, jokingly. “They can share the cost of it.”
“You don’t want to be the test case,” Gouger said. “You don’t want to be the one the ACLU sues and tries to take to the Supreme Court to have these laws overturned.”
Whether a lawsuit against the ordinance would be successful is “another issue,” he said.
Pikeville officials said they are enforcing the sagging pants law, and they are writing citations for violations.
“So far, they’ve had no significant issues with it,” Gouger said.
Some sagging pants laws around the country go as far as identifying the hip bone as a reference point for law enforcement officials to judge whether an individual’s pants are too low.
“To me, that’s a strange way to enforce it,” Gouger said. “You’re going to require your police officers to carry some type of measuring device. I don’t know any other way you could prove it unless you did that.”
His research also found that there is medical evidence suggesting that wearing sagging pants can be detrimental to a person’s health because it causes improper posture.
Mayor Jane Dawkins said the board would take Gouger’s findings “under advisement” and examine the city’s existing ordinance to determine if they should proceed further.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.