Cleary Gottlieb Wins Important Victory in Lawsuit Challenging Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature by Solicitation Statute

March 29, 2012

On March 29, 2012 Cleary Gottlieb, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Law Clinic at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, obtained an important victory invalidating Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature by Solicitation statute (“CANS”) as unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Nine anonymous plaintiffs brought the suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana to challenge the requirement that they register as sex offenders under Louisiana’s sex offender registry law based on their convictions under CANS for solicitation of oral or anal sex for compensation because individuals convicted for identical conduct under Louisiana’s prostitution statute were not required to register as sex offenders. In August 2011, CANS was amended to no longer require sex offender registration, but the amendment was not retroactive.

“The defendants 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,” wrote Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “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.”

Many of the plaintiffs in the case had been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several had been barred from homeless shelters. One had been physically threatened by a neighbor and another had been refused residential substance abuse treatment.

“Today’s ruling is a testament to the power and importance of speaking out for justice. Individuals marginalized by the CANS law told their stories, spearheading a campaign to change the law,” said Deon Haywood, executive director of Women With A Vision, a community-based organization in New Orleans that has led advocacy efforts around this issue. “The people heard, the legislature heard, and now the courts have heard. Now we can move on to healing and renewal.”