In Louisiana, the state prostitution law does not require registration as a sex offender. But Louisiana has a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law, which is harsher, is mainly used on black transgender and other women, and that has required those found guilty to register as sex offenders.
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the requirement is unconstitutional.
Police and prosecutors had unfettered discretion in choosing which law to charge under. The judge found that the discrepancy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
The state Legislature amended the 200-year-old law last year so that anyone convicted no longer will be required to register as a sex offender. But the change didn’t apply to roughly 400 people who already had been convicted of the crime and were registered sex offenders.
Many have been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several of the plaintiffs had been barred from homeless shelters, one had been physically threatened by a neighbor, and another had been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities.
Apart from LGBT, the law was also being discriminatorily applied against poor black women.
Said Alexis Agathocleous, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the case:
“[The] decision is a powerful vindication of our clients’ right to equal protection before the law. The court has agreed that they have been singled out for this harsh treatment without a legitimate or rational purpose, and that this cannot stand.”
Wrote Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana:
“The defendants [Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell] fail to credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest that can rationally explain the registration requirement imposed on those convicted of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation.”
“The Court is left with no other conclusion but that the relationship between the classification is so shallow as to render the distinction wholly arbitrary,” he wrote.
Feldman said the issue before him was “not about approval or disapproval of sexual beliefs or mores. It is about the mandate of equality that is enshrined in the Constitution.”
Feldman gave the state five days to submit a proposed judgment consistent with his decision.
Image by Graham Blackall