Texas Book Rating Law Halted by Judge

Judge Alan D. Albright indicates he will issue a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of HB 900, the state's controversial book rating law.

Texas State CapitolDuring an August 31 status call, Judge Alan D. Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division said he will issue a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of HB 900 (also known as the READER Act). While a written opinion and order are expected in the next two weeks, the state is prohibited in the meantime from enforcing the law originally set to take effect on September 1.

The controversial legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 12, requires vendors to rate all books and materials sold to schools for “appropriateness” based on the presence of depictions of or references to sex. The law also gives the Texas Education Agency authority to review ratings. Books rated as “sexually explicit” would be banned from Texas schools and books rated “sexually relevant” would require students to obtain written parental permission for access. In addition to future sales, the law requires vendors to identify past purchases from school districts that run afoul of the rating system for retroactive removal from classrooms and school libraries.

In a July 25 lawsuit, the plaintiffs – independent bookstores BookPeople in Austin and Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston; the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF); American Booksellers Association; Association of American Publishers; and, the Authors Guild – argue that the law violates the First Amendment, is overly broad, and creates an undue burden on publishers and vendors.

The plaintiffs praised the judge's decision in a joint statement following the call: “We are grateful for the Court’s swift action in deciding to enjoin this law, in the process preserving the long-established rights of local communities to set their own standards; protecting the constitutionally protected speech of authors, booksellers, publishers and readers; preventing the state government from unlawfully compelling speech on the part of private citizens; and shielding Texas businesses from the imposition of impossibly onerous conditions. We look forward to reading the court’s full opinion once it is issued.”

Becky Calzada, Library Services Coordinator in the Leander Independent School District (TX) and 2023-24 president-elect of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), shared her reaction to the judge's update, "I was afraid for a moment to be happy. Everything we've done over these past several months through the legislative session to preparing for the law to take effect has been so arduous and hard. I had to pause before I let myself feel happy. I understand that this isn't the end, but I am curious to see the judge's opinion and really understand which parts of the legal case drove his decision."

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the state intends to appeal the injunction. Representative Jared Patterson (TX-106), who sponsored HB 900, issued a statement regarding the injunction, "I would encourage book vendors and the far-left activists funding this lawsuit to celebrate with caution. This case is far from over. We will continue to fight and we will win."

This story has been updated to include additional comments.

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