In a recent development, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary block on a contentious Texas law, House Bill 900, which aimed to mandate book vendors to provide ratings for sexual content before selling to schools.
The conservative court, in a move that aligns with the concerns raised by booksellers, ruled that the law violated freedom of speech and posed potential “irreparable” financial harm to the vendors. The ruling effectively prevents the Texas Education Agency Commissioner, Mike Morath, from enforcing the law.
It’s crucial to note that while the court blocked the requirement for book ratings, it did not impede a separate provision of the law. This specific aspect mandates new library collection standards, prohibiting schools from acquiring or displaying materials deemed “sexually explicit.”
- Plaintiffs’ Lawsuit: The lawsuit was initiated by various parties, including bookstores in Austin and Houston, the Association of American Publishers, and others. They contended that the law was excessively broad, granting unchecked licensing authority to state officials over book selection in public schools.
- HB 900 Overview: The law, also referred to as the “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act,” compelled vendors to rate their books as “sexually explicit,” “sexually relevant,” or provide “no rating.” The court criticized these ratings as neither factual nor uncontroversial.
- Vendor Obligations: Book vendors were required to submit their ratings to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by April 1, with annual reviews. The TEA could correct ratings and restrict schools from purchasing books from non-compliant vendors.
- Free Speech Violation: The court ruled that the law, known as the READER Act, infringed on booksellers’ rights to free speech by forcing them to adopt the TEA’s ratings or face revenue loss.
- Remaining Law Provision: A part of the law, requiring the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to establish library collection standards, remains in effect. These standards, adopted by the Texas State Board of Education, are unrelated to vendor ratings.
- Support and Opposition: Supporters argue that the law enhances parental control over children’s exposure to inappropriate content, while opponents express concerns that it may unfairly target books discussing race and sexuality.
- Bill Author’s Response: Rep. Jared Patterson, the author of HB 900, expressed disappointment at the court’s decision and called for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
- Plaintiffs’ Statement: The plaintiffs welcomed the court’s decision as “historic,” emphasizing the protection of constitutionally guaranteed speech and the prevention of government-compelled speech on private citizens.
As this legal battle unfolds, the fate of the controversial Texas law remains uncertain, leaving stakeholders on both sides closely watching for further developments.