Federal judge temporarily blocks Arkansas book censorship law

Hopefully a good omen.

On Saturday, a federal judge in Arkansas temporarily blocked a new law that would have allowed local prosecutors to file felony charges against school and public librarians who loaned out material considered considered “harmful to minors.” The law—which also created a new process to challenge the “appropriateness” of books and force them to be moved to shelves inaccessible by minors—is punishable by up to six years in prison or fines of $10,000.

The preliminary injunction, issued two days before the law was set to take effect, comes in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition including bookstores, library patrons, and public libraries in Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Eureka Springs. The libraries and bookstores argued they would be forced to remove all books from their young adult and general collections that mention sex or sexual conduct, or else ban all minors from entering their spaces.

In his ruling, US District Judge Timothy L. Brooks wrote that the law likely violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. “There is no clarity on what affirmative steps a bookseller or librarian must take to avoid a violation,” Brooks wrote.  The new law set out a “a poorly defined method to challenge the ‘appropriateness’ of a book, be it a children’s book or an adult book,” the judge added added. “If the law is intended to protect minors, it is not narrowly tailored to that purpose.”

Nate Coulter, executive director of Central Arkansas Library System, praised the decision to Politico, saying the judge had correctly recognized the the law as censorship. “As folks in southwest Arkansas say, this order is stout as horseradish!” he wrote.

The Arkansas case differs in a number of respects from the just-filed Texas lawsuit, but they’re in the same family. I briefly skimmed the opinion, which is embedded at the link in the story, and it’s clear that Arkansas’s position was a whole lot of argle-bargle up-is-downism, and the judge just did not have it. We can certainly hope for something similar here. Politico has more.

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