US District Court Grants Preliminary Injunction Barring Implementation of Texas Censorship Law
Decisive Ruling Finds Law Violates First Amendment Rights of Booksellers, Publishers, Authors, and Readers
On September 18, 2023, Judge Alan D. Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, issued a written order granting a Preliminary Injunction barring the implementation of a vast and burdensome book ratings regime known as the “Reader Act,” ruling “that this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
Decision Follows Status Meeting and Hearing
The formal written order and constitutional analysis comes after an August 31st status meeting in which Judge Albright issued an oral order enjoining the State from enforcement, as well as a follow up hearing on September 11th.
The following are joint remarks from Valerie Koehler, owner of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, Charley Rejsek, the CEO of Austin, Texas-based bookstore, BookPeople, Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild; and Jeff Trexler, the Interim Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:
“We thank the court for its clear and decisive ruling and applaud its finding that this law violates the First Amendment, imposes impossibly onerous conditions on booksellers, and ignores the vastly different community standards across local communities. Today is a great day for Texas booksellers, publishers, readers, and communities.”
Excerpts from the Court Ruling
- Texas chose “to impose this extraordinarily difficult and prohibitively expensive burden solely on third parties with totally insufficient guidance. And worse still, no matter how much time and expense the third parties invest in complying, the State (through the Texas Education Agency) retained the power to unilaterally alter any decision made by the third party.”
- “This Court holds that the State of Texas impermissibly seeks to compel an individual or a corporation to create speech that it does not wish to make, and in addition, in which it does not agree with. The question faced by this Court is whether this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. For this and other reasons, the Court finds that this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
- The law fails “to inform the public or any Plaintiff whose community standard it is referencing. It is an open question whether this community standard is based on Austin, Texas, or Onalaska, Texas—or any of the more than 1,200 incorporated municipalities across Texas. The lack of any blueprint for the Plaintiffs to follow creates a blunt reality that under this scheme it is guaranteed that different book distributors and sellers will arrive at different assessments with respect to hundreds if not thousands of books.”
- The law’s “requirements for vendors are so numerous and onerous as to call into question whether the legislature believed any third party could possibly comply.”
- “The Court does not dispute that the state has a strong interest in what children are able to learn and access in schools. And the Court surely agrees that children should be protected from obscene content in the school setting. That said, READER misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements. And the state, in abdicating its responsibility to protect children, forces private individuals and corporations into compliance with an unconstitutional law that violates the First Amendment.”
What the Law Would Have Done
The Texas law would have replaced the long-established rights of local communities to set and implement standards for school materials within constitutional boundaries, and forced private businesses to label books where they would prefer to remain silent under burdensome and vague standards. Companies that insufficiently complied would have been subject to censure through a public listing, and Texas schools would have been prohibited from purchasing any books from them in the future.
US District Court Grants Preliminary Injunction Barring Implementation of Texas Censorship Law
Ruling Upholds Rights of Booksellers, Publishers, Authors, and Readers
During a status call held via Zoom 8/31/23, Judge Alan D. Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division orally issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Texas censorship law and promised to issue a written order and an opinion in one or two weeks.
The law would have required independent bookstores, national chain bookstores, large online book retailers, book publishers and other vendors to review and rate millions of books and other library materials according to sexual content if those books are sold to school libraries, and to do so according to vague labels dictated by the state without any process for judicial review.
The ruling came in response to a suit filed by two Texas bookstores, Austin’s BookPeople, and West Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
The law, known as “The Reader Act” (formerly HB 900), was signed by the Governor of Texas, and had been slated to go into effect on September 1, 2023.
The following are joint remarks from Valerie Koehler, owner of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, Charley Rejsek, the CEO of Austin, Texas-based bookstore, BookPeople, Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild; and Jeff Trexler, the Director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:
“We are grateful for the Court’s swift action in deciding to enjoin this law, in the process preserving the long-established rights of local communities to set their own standards; protecting the constitutionally protected speech of authors, booksellers, publishers and readers; preventing the state government from unlawfully compelling speech on the part of private citizens; and shielding Texas businesses from the imposition of impossibly onerous conditions. We look forward to reading the court’s full opinion once it is issued.”
Thank you! Thank you! Thank YOU! We have been overwhelmed by the supportive community messages we have been receiving! The number one question we have received is how to best monetarily support the lawsuit and at this time, we are not accepting donations due to the fact that BookPeople has not yet incurred any costs related to the lawsuit. By joining a coalition, we are lucky to be able to benefit from the other plaintiffs' resources.
If you would like to donate to help fight Book Bans, we recommend the following organizations:
- The Media Coalition
- The Media Coalition Inc., is an association that protects the First Amendment right to write, produce and distribute books, films, home video and video games; and defends the American public’s First Amendment right to access the broadest possible range of information, opinion, and entertainment. Founded in 1973, their members represent most of the authors, publishers, librarians, and film and video game producers in the United States.
- They are the organization handling BOOK PEOPLE, INC. V. WONG.
- PEN America
- PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. They champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Their mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
BookPeople is proud to join a coalition alongside Blue Willow Bookshop, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, to file suit in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, challenging this new Texas law that would require independent bookstores, national chain bookstores, large online book retailers, book publishers and other vendors to review and rate books and other library materials if those books are sold to school libraries.
The plaintiffs have also asked the Court for preliminary and permanent injunctions halting the implementation of the law, which has been signed by the Governor of Texas and is slated to go into effect on September 1, 2023.
Comment from Charley Rejsek, the CEO of Austin, Texas-based bookstore, BookPeople
“Setting aside for the moment the fact that this law is clearly unconstitutional, booksellers do not see a clear path forward to rating the content of the thousands of titles sold to schools in the past, nor the thousands of titles that are published each year that could be requested by a school for purchase, neither do we have the training nor funding needed to do so. In addition, booksellers should not be put in the position of broadly determining what best serves all Texan communities. Each community is individual and has different needs. Setting local guidelines is not the government’s job either. It is the local librarian’s and teacher’s job, in conjunction with the community they serve.”
Additional Sources of Information
- Testimony to the Education Committee, from Charley Rejsek, BookPeople’s CEO, and Meghan Goel, BookPeople’s Children’s Book Buyer, outlining why compliance with HB 900 is not feasible for book vendors, like BookPeople.