Coalition of Booksellers, Authors & Publishers File Suit to Challenge New Censorship Law in Texas
On July 25, the American Association of Publishers, of which Penguin Random House is a member, joined two Texas booksellers (Book People in Austin and Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston), American Booksellers Association, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a legal challenge to “The Reader Act” (formerly Texas HB 900). The lawsuit claims that the bill, which requires Texas school library material vendors to rate books based on sexual content, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Reader Act would require vendors, including local and national bookstore owners, to determine “current community standards of decency” and subsequently assign “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” labels to books and other library materials based on the presence of descriptions or depictions of “sexual conduct.” The law replaces the long-established rights of local communities to set and implement standards for school materials within constitutional boundaries, and forces private businesses to act as instruments of state censorship on controversial topics under threat of retaliation. Companies that insufficiently comply will be subject to censure through a public listing and Texas schools will be prohibited from purchasing any books from them in the future. The plaintiffs have asked the Court for preliminary and permanent injunctions to enjoin 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.
The lawsuit alleges the bill violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by, among other things, compelling speech, imposing unconstitutional prior restraints, regulating speech with impermissibly vague and overbroad terms, imposing unconstitutional content-based restrictions, delegating the power to regulate speech to private entities, and violating the due process rights of those affected to object, appeal, bring claims for damages, or seek judicial determination of content labels and distribution restrictions.