Appeals Court Affirms Decision to Return Books to Llano County Library Shelves

In a divided three-judge panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a majority decision largely upholding a preliminary injunction ordering Llano County Library System to reshelve several titles that were previously removed.

Nearly a year to the day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Little v. Llano County, it issued a majority decision largely upholding a preliminary injunction ordering the public library to reshelve several titles that were previously removed.

Leila Green Little and six others first sued Llano County Library System and county officials in 2022, claiming that the library's removal of books dealing with racism, sex and sexual identity, gender identity, and juvenile humor violated their First Amendment right to receive information. In March 2023, Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered the library to put the books back into general circulation. Llano County officials appealed to the Fifth Circuit. 

In a divided panel, Judge Jacques L. Wiener authored the majority opinion, stating, "Government actors may not remove books from a public library with the intent to deprive patrons of access to ideas with which they disagree." Judge Leslie Southwick concurred with Wiener but argued that some of books targeted for removal contained "only juvenile, flatulent humor," writing, "I do not find those books were removed on the basis of a dislike for the ideas within them when it has not been shown the books contain any ideas with which to disagree."

Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan's strongly worded dissent argued that library collection decisions are protected government speech. He accused his colleagues of creating a "nightmare" of rules for libraries, writing, "And who will apply these rules? Federal judges, naturally. You’ve heard of the Soup Nazi? Say hello to the Federal Library Police."

Of the 17 titles removed from Llano County library shelves, eight must be returned, including "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents," by Isabel Wilkerson, "Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen," by Jazz Jennings, and "Freakboy," by Kristen Elizabeth Clark.

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