Judge blocks Arkansas law banning librarians from giving minors ‘harmful’ books
A federal judge blocks Arkansas law banning librarians from giving minors ‘harmful’ books. This move has been hailed by free-speech advocates, who viewed the law as an infringement on individual liberties.
The law in question, Act 372, was set to take effect on Tuesday. However, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction on Saturday, siding with bookstores, libraries, and patrons who argued that parts of the law were unconstitutional.
Section 1 of Act 372 would have made it a criminal offense to knowingly provide a minor with any material deemed 'harmful'. The term 'harmful' was defined by state law as containing nudity or sexual content, appealing to a 'prurient interest in sex', lacking 'serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors', or deemed 'inappropriate for minors' under current community standards.
The plaintiffs also challenged Section 5, which would have allowed anyone 'affected by' material in a particular county or municipal library to challenge the 'appropriateness' of the material. The plaintiffs argued that the law would force librarians and booksellers to make an impossible choice: Remove books that some might deem offensive to young readers from their shelves; create secure, adult-only spaces for those books; ban minors from their facilities altogether; or expose themselves to criminal charges or fines.
In his injunction, Judge Brooks stated that the law “would permit, if not encourage, library committees and local governmental bodies to make censorship decisions based on content or viewpoint,” in violation of the right to free speech under the First Amendment. He agreed with the plaintiffs that the state’s definition of 'harmful' materials was overly vague.
The judge also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed Act 372 into law in March, making Arkansas the latest state to introduce criminal charges for librarians or booksellers over material deemed harmful or obscene.
Sanders’s office said in an email Sunday that the governor supports legislation that “protects kids from having access to obscene content.” Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. He told the Associated Press in an email Saturday that his office would be “reviewing the judge’s opinion and will continue to vigorously defend the law.”
The ACLU of Arkansas, which jointly filed the suit against Act 372, celebrated the court’s decision in a statement Saturday and said the victory was part of a broader battle to defend freedom of speech and thought. “The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials? Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in the statement.
This case serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting freedom of speech and the right to access information. As Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451," a novel about a society where books are burned to control people's access to information, once wrote: “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
Nate Coulter was the first attorney I clerked for after my 1L year. Seriously impressive guy. Always has been.
Here's a copy of the ruling.