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Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, American Booksellers Association, and more sue over new Texas rating law

“The Reader Act” is set to require booksellers to rate book based on “current community standards of decency”

Photograph of books on a bookshelf
Image credit: Popverse

A new law is set to be implemented in the state of Texas starting in September. “The Reader Act," also known as HB 900, would require booksellers (both local and national) to label any books sold to Texas public schools featuring “sexual conduct” as either “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” by “current community standards of decency.” Students would only be able to check out books rated as "sexually relevant" with special permission, and books rated as "sexually explicit" would not be allowed to be acquired by school libraries at all.

If the state disagrees with any bookseller's rating, the state can overrule said rating, and if booksellers fail to comply, then public schools will be banned from purchasing books from that vendor in the future.

Now, several groups including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and bookshops Austin’s BookPeople and West Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop are suing in federal court to prevent this law from going into effect.

The groups' complaint argues that the law "violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution because it is an overbroad and vague contentbased law that targets protected speech and is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. The Book Ban compels Plaintiffs to express the government’s views, even if they do not agree, and operates as a prior restraint, two of the most egregious constitutional infringements."

A joint statement from Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, and Jeff Trexler, the Director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund reads:

“There is no question that reading in schools should be guided and age appropriate, but this law does not accomplish that goal. It is inferior to existing constitutional standards because it robs parents, schools and teachers from across the state of Texas of the right to make decisions for their respective communities and classrooms, instead handing that role to a state entity and private businesses.

“It is central to the First Amendment that the government can neither restrain nor compel speech, but this law will force booksellers to label constitutionally protected works of literature and nonfiction with highly subjective and stigmatizing ratings, effectively forcing private actors to convey and act upon the government’s views even when they disagree.

“From a logistical angle, this law creates an impossibly onerous and cumbersome process that bookstores and other vendors must follow, forcing them to review massive amounts of material without the benefit of clear and workable standards, and compelling them to recall titles previously sold over an indeterminate period of time.

“The suit filed today seeks to protect the basic constitutional rights of the plaintiffs and restore the right of Texas parents to determine what is age appropriate and important for their children to access in their schools, without government interference or control.”

More on this story as it develops.

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About the Author
Tiffany Babb avatar

Tiffany Babb

Deputy Editor

Tiffany Babb is Popverse's deputy editor and resident Sondheim enthusiast. Tiffany likes stories that understand genre conventions (whether they play into them or against them), and she cries very easily at the movies— but rarely at the moments that are meant to be tearjerkers.

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