Federal Judge Alan D. Albright has blocked the Texas READER Act.
Texas’s draconian pro-censorship book banning law, the READER Act, was set to go into effect September 1, 2023. The law would require development of a manual by the State Library and Archives–a body appointed by the governor–to determine standards for materials available in schools and it would demand vendors to rate every single book they sell or have sold. Some saw the law as an opportunity to pursue their right-wing agendas, compiling lists of hundreds of titles deemed “unsuitable” and thus, to be removed as soon as possible.
In July, several groups filed a lawsuit, including Texas bookstores BookPeople (Austin) and Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston), alongside the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The lawsuit noted that the READER Act’s vagueness made it impossible to follow and more, its overreaching nature violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendment.
There were two hearings in the suit, and the ruling came one day before the law was set to begin. Albright ruled that the entirety of the law would be enjoined and that no part of it could be enforced by the state. The judge’s formal opinion and order will arrive in the next couple of weeks.
Plaintiffs in the case release a statement following the Zoom status call on Thursday.
“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,” they said.
The Texas Attorney General’s office notes they plan to appeal the decision.
Now three years into the ongoing growth of book censorship, the judge’s decision is a victory for champions of free speech, intellectual freedom, and the First Amendment Rights of all. The READER Act put the power of book access into the hands of the state governor through both the State Library and Archives, as well as the Texas Education Association, a body that is appointed by the governor.
This victory is one for the anti-censorship movement and will likely help provide a way forward in additional lawsuits happening across the country–and it helps set a precedent for the role of access to books and materials as granted by US Constitution. Moreover, school libraries across the state will no longer need to shut down in order to become compliant with the vague law, as seen in August at Fort Worth Independent School District.
Texas has had the most book bans in the last year, according to data collected by PEN America. In the 2022-2023 school year, over 483 books were removed from schools and libraries across the state; this number does not include the book challenges nor does it represent the increasingly hostile school board environments and local-level decisions made.