Illinois vs. Saggy Pants

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I’ve heard about judges having very specific laws for their courtrooms before, but a judge in the Cook County Circuit Court, near Chicago, has taken quite an interesting step in that regard. Judge Gloria Chevere has started to fight against saggy pants in her courtroom–even throwing eight people in jail for the offensive apparel in the last three years. When defendants have come into her courtroom wearing pants she deems too low slung, she’s remanded them to jail for “direct criminal contempt.”

That really is pretty extreme–criminal contempt is defined in Illinois as:

Any conduct committed with intent to impede, embarrass, or obstruct the court, or to derogate from the court’s authority, or bring the court into disrepute.

The direct part just means that it is done in the presence of a judge–in this case Judge Chevere. Usually such a designation is reserved for something legitimately distracting–such as fighting, or yelling in the presence of a judge. It wasn’t just pants that got Chevere to invoke that designation though; she had 22 other cases of direct criminal contempt in her courtroom as well over the same period of time. She has now been assigned to a courtroom where she deals more with administrative issues because of worries that her constant throwing people in jail when she didn’t like their pants impeded justice somehow.

I’ve never been to Chicago, but I guess saggy pants don’t just get Judge Chevere up in arms. Apparently it’s a big problem in a small suburb outside of the Windy City, too, called Forest Park. Mayor Anthony Calderone himself proposed legislation that would not allow people to wear “pants or shorts falling more than three inches below a person’s hips and exposing that portion of the person’s undergarments, buttocks, pubic area and/or genitals.”

It’s kind of a weird proposal–it’s one thing to ban someone showing their genitals, but there are, I have to assume, public decency laws already on the books about that kind of exposure. This ban seems tailored at really one thing–a fashion trend that I probably hear people complaining about more than I actually see.

At first glance it seems kind of silly at best, but if you look more closely at the proposed rule, it’s pretty problematic. First of all, it seems to target a particular group–young black men. Those in favor of the ordinance deny that’s the intention. Mayor Calderone, said:

There are people on both sides of the issue. This doesn’t have to do with any sort of racial profiling what so ever. In our town, it’s not been any one specific color (race), it’s been whites and blacks.

While that could be true, the arguments about racial profiling are justified. Those who disagree with the ordinance argue that known discriminatory practices like stop and frisk could be facilitated by this new rule. If police officers can stop a young man from wearing pants that don’t fit the code, they may segue that into a more invasive interaction.

So if you’re a particular fan of sagging pants, don’t wear them in the greater Chicago area. Some places you might get thrown out of a courtroom, and in some you may break a law.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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