Federal appeals court upholds block on Texas law restricting ‘explicit’ books

House Bill 900 requires books sold in the state be rated for sexual content by the book seller, similar to how Hollywood rates movies.

By Bill Zeeble, KERA NewsApril 18, 2024 10:00 am, , ,

From KERA News:

A federal appeals court this week declined to reconsider a ruling that blocked part of a Texas law requiring book sellers to rate their own works for sexual content before selling to schools in the state.

Tuesday’s decisionfrom the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively keeps key portions of House Bill 900 — known as the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources, or READER, Act — from going into effect.

“HB 900 is a disastrous bill that would censor books, that would impose censorial regimes on publishers, that would effectively label books as inappropriate for kids, and would have a chilling effect on authors and really impose on student’s right to access important literature,” said Elly Brinkley, a legal fellow with the free speech advocacy organization PEN America.

Booksellers sued the state last year shortly after HB 900 was signed into law, saying it violated the First Amendment and was too pricy and unworkable. A three-judge panel agreed in January, and the full appeals court upheld that decision in a 9-8 ruling.

Brinkley said a similar law was also blocked in Iowa.

“These laws are sort of patently absurd and, on their face are antithetical to First Amendment values,” she said.

The dissenting judges argued “nothing in the First Amendment prevents states from taking steps to shield children” from sexual content.

“States have a profound interest in protecting the innocence of children from various adult activities. We don’t let children buy alcohol. We don’t let them gamble. They’re not supposed to smoke,” the judges wrote. “We also shield them from sexually explicit materials.”

The bill’s author, state Rep. Jared Patterson, said in a statement posted to X that the ruling was “disappointing.”

“Any judge claiming the State of Texas cannot require government vendors to ensure they don’t send sexually explicit content to children in our schools is just plain wrong,” he wrote.

He urged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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