Biden’s DOJ Takes A Stand Against Tennessee Law Making It Illegal For Prostitutes To Knowingly Spread HIV

Merrick Garland
Screenshot: 60 Minutes

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over its aggravated prostitution law, claiming that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The law, passed in 1991, imposes harsher criminal penalties on prostitutes who engage in their line of work while knowingly infected with HIV.

The aggravated prostitution law raises the aforementioned act from a misdemeanor to a felony “when, knowing that such person is infected with HIV, the person engages in sexual activity as a business or is an inmate in a house of prostitution or loiters in a public place for the purpose of being hired to engage in sexual activity.”

It also requires the guilty party to register for life as a “violent sex offender,” and they could face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The DOJ’s lawsuit contends that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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DOJ Suing Over Tennessee Aggravated Prostitution Law

Going after the Tennessee aggravated prostitution law from a disability angle is certainly interesting.

“The enforcement of state criminal laws that treat people differently based on HIV status alone and that are not based on actual risks of harm, discriminate against people living with HIV,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“People living with HIV should not be subjected to a different system of justice based on outdated science and misguided assumptions,” Clarke added. “This lawsuit reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that people living with HIV are not targeted because of their disability.”

They’re not being targeted because of their disability: they’re being targeted for an already criminal act that happens to be heinous in that it has the potential to change the life of the other party engaged in such criminal acts.

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The Difference With This ‘Disability’

In the United States, HIV is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That said, not all disabilities are the same. You can’t transmit being blind to a co-worker. Nor can you transmit hearing loss or autism.

What you can transmit is HIV, which, while great strides have been made in the medical field on this disease, would still be a life-altering diagnosis.

The DOJ lawsuit against the Tennessee aggravated prostitution law comes after the department found that the law was discriminatory in December, but the state declined to enter into negotiations.

This is not the first time that the law has been challenged, as multiple organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Memphis last year on behalf of four “Jane Doe” plaintiffs and OutMemphis, a local nonprofit that serves the LGBT community.

The ACLU argued that the law disproportionately affects black and transgender prostitutes who knowingly engage in sexual acts for pay while being HIV+.

The DOJ lawsuit cites one particular “victim” of the Tennessee prostitution law, a “black transgender woman” who was engaged in prostitution in 2010 despite knowingly being HIV positive in 2008.

The complainant also happened to be arrested, the Daily Wire reports, for “prostitution near a church or school.”

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Rusty Weiss has been covering politics for over 15 years. His writings have appeared in the Daily Caller, Fox... More about Rusty Weiss

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