Arkansas libraries ask federal judge to block new library obscenity measure from going into law

A majority of the books being challenged in school and community libraries are written by authors who are people of color, LGBTQ, Black and Indigenous, and feature characters from marginalized groups. (Getty Images)

The Arkansas libraries challenging a new obscenity law asked a federal judge to stop it from taking effect while he considers whether the law is unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a motion and brief in support of a preliminary injunction Thursday.

The Central Arkansas Library System and 17 other plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit against both the state and Crawford County earlier this month, alleging two sections of Act 372 that directly affect library operations violate the U.S. Constitution.

The new law, which is set to take effect Aug. 1, alters what libraries must do when someone objects to the availability of certain books and materials and creates criminal liability for librarians who distribute content that some consider “obscene” or “harmful to minors.”

The content supporters of the legislation have targeted predominantly relates to sexual education books, nudity and those with LGBTQ characters and themes.

State of Arkansas and Crawford County sued over library obscenity law

A brief filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Thursday argues that provisions of the law violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Act 372 requires public libraries to establish a process through which someone can challenge the appropriateness of a material’s inclusion in the library’s main collection, with a successful challenge resulting in the work being relocated to an area inaccessible by minors.

This “sweeping, vague, and unaccountable” challenge procedure violates the Constitution, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue, because it “enshrines viewpoint discrimination in its guarantee of preferential access to parties favoring restrictions,” and it doesn’t define its “appropriateness” and “inaccessible to minors” standards.

The law’s availability provision makes it a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment for up to a year, to provide harmful material to minors. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue this provision “entirely fails to regulate with the nuance required by the First Amendment, treating all minors under the age of 18 as a monolith.”

While the intended effect of this provision may be to shield children from “harmful,” materials, it will also “severely limit” the ability of adults and older minors to examine protected materials, according to the brief.

This story was originally published by the Arkansas Advocate. It is republished here with permission.

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Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate
Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.