A federal judge in Montana has issued a temporary restraining order blocking HB 359, Montana’s recently passed ban on drag performances, from taking effect until a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality can be fully briefed.
In a July 28 ruling, federal judge Brian Morris acknowledged that the state has yet to fully answer the legal challenge to the law, but found sufficient evidence to grant the TRO blocking the law so that Montana Pride, which began on July 30 and will run through August 6, can proceed without legal risk.
“Plaintiffs, along with the approximately 15,000 Montanans who wish to attend the events, cannot avoid chilled speech or exposure to potential civil or criminal liability under H.B. 359 in the absence of the extraordinary remedy of a TRO,” Morris wrote in his his 20-page decision. “The time sensitivity of plaintiffs’ TRO request, the likelihood that significant constitutional violations to plaintiffs have occurred and will continue without judicial intervention, and the absence of countervailing evidence currently before the court together require the court to issue a TRO.”
The decision comes after a group of 10 plaintiffs, including local bookseller the Montana Book Company and local author Adria Jawort, filed a federal lawsuit on July 7 alleging that HB 359 is “a breathtakingly ambiguous and overbroad" law that imposes an “unconstitutional content and viewpoint-based restriction” on free speech and should be struck down.
In June, Jawort, a plaintiff in the suit, had a scheduled talk at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library canceled, with library officials citing the new law. Jawort is also seeking damages.
The Montana law is one of a number of such anti-LGBTQ+ laws that emerged in state legislatures in 2023, which are now being challenged in court, something Morris acknowledged in his decision. Last month, a Trump-appointed judge blocked Tennessee's drag ban from taking effect, holding that the law is "overly broad and violated the First Amendment."