Fifth Circuit partially upholds ruling that ordered library books back on shelves in Llano County

This is a lot.

Eight books dealing with subjects including racism and transgender issues must be returned to library shelves in a rural Texas county that had removed them in an ongoing book banning controversy, a divided panel of three federal appeals court judges ruled Thursday.

It was a partial victory for seven library patrons who sued numerous officials with the Llano County library system and the county government after 17 books were removed. In Thursday’s opinion from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, one judge voted to uphold a lower court order that the books should be returned. Another largely agreed but said nine of the books could stay off the shelves as the appeal plays out.

A third dissented entirely, meaning a majority supported returning eight books.

In March 2023, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered 17 books returned to Kingsland library shelves while a citizen lawsuit against book banning proceeded. The works ranged from children’s books to award-winning nonfiction, including “They Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health,” by Robie Harris.

The ruling from Pitman, nominated to the federal court by former President Barack Obama, was on hold during the appeal. Thursday’s ruling was a preliminary injunction, and more court proceedings are likely.

See here and here for the background. As noted previously, this happened at the public library, not a school library. The story has some information on how the three judges (all Republican-appointed) ruled, but I recommend you read this thread by appellate lawyer Raffi Melkonian for a more detailed analysis. He also thinks this will go to an en banc hearing, at which the full Fifth Circuit will review the ruling, and from there I’d expect an appeal to SCOTUS. Whether they take that up or not is anyone’s guess. As dumb and corrosive as the original action by Llano County was, this is a thornier and more complex case than you might think. Read the thread and see for yourself.

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