Texas Censorship Law Is Blocked, One Day Before Implementation

In News by Porter Anderson

Federal district court in Austin enjoins Texas from enforcing any part of its book-ratings law ‘HB 900,’ a preliminary injunction to come.

The Texas statehouse in Austin. Image – Getty iStockphoto: PNG Studio

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Texas’ ‘Reader Act’ Would Require Sexual Content Ratings
In the proverbial ‘nick of time, Judge Alan D. Albright of the United States’ District Court for the Western District of Texas—the Austin division—has today (August 31) blocked the state from enforcing any part of “HB 900,” sometimes referred to as the “Reader Act.” This is effectively a temporary restraining order, preventing the law from being activated now, as the bench prepares its preliminary injunction.

Publishing Perspectives readers will remember from our coverage on July 26 that this closely watched law, was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas to take effect on Friday (September 1).

Today’s action, as laid out by Judge Albright in a status conference today, is a way of stopping the law from going into force while he, the judge, prepares to issue a written order in one to two weeks. In that order, he has indicated today, he’ll grant a preliminary injunction that will bar the State of Texas from rolling out its censorship law in its entirety.

The law in question, as described by Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris at The New York Times on July 25, “would force booksellers to evaluate and rate each title they sell to schools, as well as books they sold in the past. If they fail to comply, stores would be barred from doing business with schools.”

What’s more, bookstores—having rated books as sexually explicitsexually relevant, or no rating—would also have to expose those ratings for government review. “If the state disagrees with the rating,” write Alter and Harris, “it can overrule the bookseller and impose its own rating.”

This is a case that was challenged in Judge Albright’s court by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, joined by two Texas bookstores, Book People in Austin and Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

Those involved in suing to stop Texas’ new law from going into effect have issued a joint statement, reading:

“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.”

Signatories to that joint statement are:

  • Valerie Koehler, owner of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop
  • Charley Rejsek, CEO of Austin’s BookPeople
  • Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association
  • Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers
  • Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild
  • Jeff Trexler, interim director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship more widely is here, more on the freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here, and more on the Association of American Publishers is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.