Johnston County

Selma backs off banning saggy pants

Town Council member William Overby thinks sagging pants are disrespectful to other citizens. But he’s not sure that Selma’s government can do much about it.

Though Overby initially had raised the issue of the town banning such britches, he opted this week to take the topic off the table.

Towns and cities in Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and Illinois have had varying degrees of success with saggy pants ordinances in recent years.

“You see people walking down the street, pulling up their pants,” Overby said.

But in looking at the issue, Selma leaders feared such a ban could violate the Constitution. Also, they saw that Dunn had been unsuccessful in enacting a similar rule two years ago.

“How you dress is an expressive activity,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “And it is a liberty interest in being able to dress as you choose.”

Dunn also decided that policing such a law would be difficult. In a letter to Dunn in 2012, Preston said the proposed ordinance was so vague that it could lead to selective and disproportionate enforcement.

“We don’t want to create that type of situation,” she said. “We’ve seen a few of these proposals before, and you end up with ‘How saggy is too saggy?’ ”

Preston said no saggy pants ordinances have been successful in North Carolina.

Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver said a ban would have been impractical.

“Where is a person’s waist?” she said. “We don’t want to get into it.”

The town attorney, Alan “Chip” Hewett, said he thought an ordinance would have a slim chance of surviving a constitutional law challenge.

Instead, Hewett encouraged the council to publicly challenge citizens to “clean up the dress code.”

Overby said during Tuesday night’s council session, “I’m removing the saggy pants away from our discussion as a council member tonight and hope that the citizens would get involved … in enforcing a dress code of some kind.”

Without hesitation, Oliver granted his request for no further action.

“If I had done what (the attorneys) had done before I’d opened my mouth, we probably wouldn’t be talking about baggy pants,” Overby said.

But he pointed to the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” signs that businesses often post as an example of a broader public dress code.

“The citizens have got to address the dress code themselves … they can add no baggy pants,” he said.