A friend of the pole tax

Law.com has reported Texas State Representative Ellen Cohen (D-Houston) has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the state’s “pole tax” that would impose a $5 tax on admission to sexually oriented establishments that serve alcohol. Representative Cohen joined with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Texas Legal Services Center in writing the brief which asserts that there is a link between sexual violence and the combination of live nude dancing and alcohol. The Law.com story includes both a discussion of the case as well as links to several of the briefs filed in the case.

Miley Cyrus on a stripper pole

Miley Cyrus entertains fans who haven't paid the adult entertainment tax or met the two-drink minimum

As noted in an earlier post on “sin taxes,” this attempt to discourage “sexually oriented” business is complicated since so many popular entertainers routinely try to have the best of both worlds and cash in on sexuality while denying the adult-only label. There are lots of civil liberties arguments to bring into class about free expression. There are also interesting arguments about what the state should try to tax out of business and what should be left alone.

However, this is an especially good story to use to talk to students about organized interests’ use of amicus briefs.

An amicus brief is a written argument (brief)  given to the judge by someone who is not a party in the case. The term comes from the term amicus curiae or “friend of the court.” The premise behind the “friend of the court” label is that the brief is not filed by the friends of the plaintiff or defendant–the brief is filed to help the make the judge’s job easier. Judges may reject these briefs. However, once an amicus brief is accepted it becomes part of the official court record.

Organized interests often file amicus briefs because while they may not be directly involved in that particular case, the interests they represent will be impacted by the court’s decision. In Susan Combs, et al. v. Texas Entertainment Association, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault is arguing on behalf of women who are not a directly involved in to the legal case but could be impacted if the tax is ruled unconstitutional.

While this particular amicus brief may not carry much weight in the court’s final decision, it illustrates the role of these brief pretty well.


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