On September 18, 2023, United States District Judge Alan D. Albright issued a written order enjoining the State of Texas from “applying, enforcing, or attempting to enforce” House Bill 900, a.k.a. the Texas book ban, a.k.a. the READER Act. As he states early in the injunction (which you can read in its entirety), “the Court finds that this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

In spring 2023, I began compiling news about the most serious anti-library, anti-librarian legislation pending in Texas — primarily about the consideration, passage, and consequences of HB 900, as well as the lawsuit filed against it by booksellers, publishers, and authors. You can read all of that here.

Now that the one resulting law has been enjoined by Judge Albright, I’m starting this new digest to round up information about what happens next.

Please note that I am not an unbiased observer. I am a member of the Authors Guild, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. And on May 11, 2023, I testified against HB 900 before the Texas Senate Committee on Education:

Now, on with the roundup:

“Waco-based federal judge rips new Texas library book rating law as unconstitutional,” Waco Tribune-Herald, September 20, 2023:

In the initial complaint, the vendors claim the bill creates an “unconstitutional regime” of compelled speech. It states that the law punishes vendors who refuse to rate books or adopt the government’s ratings by blocking them from selling books and publicly shaming them on the TEA’s website. The complaint also takes issue with the lack of an appeal to TEA designations.

Albright was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2018 to be Waco Division federal judge for the Western District of Texas. He held the hearings in Austin for the Austin division of the district in late August.

Siding with the plaintiffs, Albright writes that provisions put booksellers in an “impossible position” due to the high cost of compliance with issuing ratings. Albright noted that one of the plaintiffs estimated the cost to rate each book to be between $200 and $1,000, plus an additional $4 million to $500 million to read and rate books already sold to districts, well over the total sales of $1 million per year the vendor sees.

Albright also agreed with plaintiffs that the READER Act “fails to inform the public or any Plaintiff whose community standard it is referencing. It is an open question whether this community standard is based on Austin, Texas, or Onalaska, Texas — or any of the more than 1,200 incorporated municipalities across Texas.”

“In a Blistering Opinion, Judge Officially Blocks Texas’s Book Rating Law,” Publishers Weekly, September 19, 2023:

“The Court does not dispute that the state has a strong interest in what children are able to learn and access in schools. And the Court surely agrees that children should be protected from obscene content in the school setting,” Albright concluded. “That said, [the law] misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements. And the state, in abdicating its responsibility to protect children, forces private individuals and corporations into compliance with an unconstitutional law that violates the First Amendment.” …

At one point, Albright observed that the burden placed on vendors by the law are “so numerous and onerous as to call into question whether the legislature believed any third party could possibly comply.” And he called out state attorneys for their inability to answer basic questions over the course of two hearings. “Generally, the government was confused and unaware of how the law would actually function in practice,” Albright observed, citing “approximately 40 instances during the August 18th hearing (‘Hearing 1’) where the government either did not know how the law would function or did not have an answer as to what the effects of certain provisions were.”

“Texas youth say book bans violate their rights and take away ‘the joy of reading’,” KUT 90.5, September 19, 2023:

In his order temporarily blocking HB 900 from taking effect, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright said even though he agrees students should be protected from obscene content in school, the law “misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements.”

He added that the state cannot require book vendors to rate materials based on sexual content, at least not in the way the law currently requires. He said the law does not provide enough guidance and would be “prohibitively expensive” for vendors.

“For whatever reason, Texas chose not to have anyone employed by the state at any level make the initial evaluation of the sexual content,” Albright wrote. “It chose instead to impose this extraordinarily difficult and prohibitively expensive burden solely on third parties with totally insufficient guidance.”

Albright declined the state’s request to let Texas officials continue to develop the new library standards while the law is on hold. He concluded HB 900 ultimately violates the First Amendment.

Plaintiffs, including BookPeople CEO Charley Rejsek, applauded the judge’s ruling, saying the law “imposes impossibly onerous conditions on booksellers, and ignores the vastly different community standards across local communities.”

Soon after the judge released the written order explaining his decision, the state appealed. The case now heads to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.