NCLR and other groups filed a friend of the court brief in a groundbreaking case that finally put a stop to Louisiana’s longstanding practice of imposing harsh criminal penalties on people accused of soliciting certain types of sexual conduct with a person of the same sex.
People charged under the state’s so-called “Crime Against Nature by Solicitation” (“CANS”) statute had to register as sex offenders, while people engaging in the very same behavior with a different-sex partner were charged with prostitution, a conviction that could never result in registration. Because prosecutors had total discretion to bring these charges, they frequently imposed the harsher CANS statute on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In February of 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of nine individuals who were registered as sex offenders after being charged under CANS.
In a March 29, 2012 ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman found that the sex offender registration requirement under CANS violated the Equal Protection Clause. Louisiana, wrote Judge Feldman, could not “credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest [to] rationally explain” why those convicted under the CANS statute were singled out for sex offender registration, while individuals convicted under the prostitution statute were not.
The Court’s ruling was a major vindication for the nine plaintiffs, many of whom were unable to secure work or housing, had been barred from homeless shelters or treatment facilities, or who had been threatened by neighbors because they were registered sex offenders.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with Lambda Legal, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Breakout!, a project of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Louisiana unconstitutionally targeted LGBTQ individuals by frequently charging their alleged crimes under the CANS statute.