Federal judge blocks Texas book rating law

A judge has paused enforcement of a new law that would require any book vendor who sells to Texas public schools to rate every publication in their stock on the basis of sexual content.

The law, Texas House Bill 900, also known as the Readers Act, was passed this spring during the state's biannual legislative session, and was set to go into effect Sept. 1. During a Zoom status call on Aug. 31, U.S. District Court Judge Alan D. Albright indicated that he would also issue a written order in the next two weeks barring implementation of HB 900 in its entirety. In the meantime, the state is prohibited from enforcing any aspect of the law.

A coalition of book vendors and public bookstores, including West Houston's Blue Willow Bookstore, sued the state in July over the law, arguing that it was a violation of the First Amendment, overly broad, unenforceable, and placed an undue burden on private businesses to act in the interests of the state. Blue Willow owner Valerie Koehler told Chron that roughly 20 percent of her bookstore's sales are made directly to school districts in the Houston area.

The law requires booksellers who sell to school districts to evaluate books and rate them based on how much and what kind of sexual content they contain. The state has the ability to "veto" a store's rating, and can essentially blacklist bookstores who do not comply with the law, or who comply incorrectly, from doing business with public school districts. Bookstores would also be required to rate every book they've ever sold, even if those books are no longer in print.

The plaintiffs in the case, which also include Austin independent bookstore BookPeople, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, argued that the state has given incomplete and confusing guidance on how the rating system and penalty system will work. The state said it would provide guidelines to bookstores by Jan. 1, 2024, and wouldn't start enforcing the law until April 2024.

During hearings over the past few weeks, Judge Albright indicated that he planned to make a ruling on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction before the law took effect on Sept. 1.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs in the case praised Albright's decision.

"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," the statement read. "We look forward to reading the court’s full opinion once it is issued.”

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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