Judge Finds Texas Book Banning Unconstitutional

A win for BookPeople and First Amendment

Banned books on display at progressive Austin bookshop Reverie Books (Photo by Jana Birchum)

A federal judge in Waco echoed concerns from schoolteachers and parents this week, smacking down the state’s new book-banning law, House Bill 900, calling it vague and unconstitutional.

HB 900 has a strange title – the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Education Resources Act, or READER – but it is generally known as the book-banning bill. It was passed by Republicans this spring in an effort to ban what they falsely describe as “pornography” in school libraries.

“READER misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements,” U.S. District Judge Alan Albright wrote in his ruling. “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.”

HB 900’s mechanism for banning books is indeed strange. It requires vendors that sell books to school districts to rate those that include “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” passages. A variety of book vendors, including Austin’s BookPeople, filed suit on July 25, arguing that the law is blatantly unconstitutional and would be a severe burden on their businesses.

In his ruling, Albright questioned whether the intent of the law is to force book vendors to stop selling any books at all to schools, saying that the provisions in the law are “so numerous and onerous as to call into question whether the legislature believed any third party could possibly comply.” He also ridiculed the lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office who were sent to defend the law.

“Generally, the government was confused and unaware of how the law would actually function in practice,” Albright ruled. “There were approximately 40 instances during the August 18th hearing where the government either did not know how the law would function or did not have an answer as to what the effects of certain provisions were.”

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