Judge blocks Arkansas law that looks to stop librarians from given to children 'harmful' books

July 31, 2023
Robert Ayers

A federal judge has just blocked Arkansas from implementing a state law that would have criminally punished librarians who give to children books deemed "harmful."  

NPR reports that U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction on Saturday.

A preliminary injunction is a temporary measure. It essentially stops the law from being implemented while the legality of the law is being litigated.

The law at issue here is Arkansas Act 372.

The details

Act 372 would make it a crime for libraries to knowingly provide a child with any "harmful" materials.

The Daily Wire reports:

Arkansas law defines “harmful to minors” as containing nudity or sexual content, appeals to “a prurient interest in sex to minors,” lacks “serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors,” and is considered “offensive” to show to children by current community standards.

In other words, the law appears to equate "harmful" with "obscene."

A violation of the law would be a Class A misdemeanor that would be punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed Act 372 into law earlier this year. And, it was set to take effect on Aug. 1. But, the preliminary injunction changes this.

The ruling

Act 372 has been legally challenged by the Central Arkansas Library System, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and several local libraries.

The challengers, in general, are arguing that the law is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, they are arguing that the law would put libraries and others in the difficult position of having to find a way to stop minors from seeing adult materials or else face criminal charges.

At the outset, the challengers asked Judge Brooks to grant a preliminary injunction, temporarily stopping the law from taking effect. Brooks, as stated, has granted that injunction.

The Washington Post reports:

In his injunction, Brooks said the law “would permit, if not encourage, library committees and local governmental bodies to make censorship decisions based on content or viewpoint,” in violation of the right to free speech under the First Amendment. He agreed with the plaintiffs that the state’s definition of “harmful” materials was overly vague.

It appears that Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) is now considering whether or not to appeal the preliminary injunction. If he chooses not to, then the case will proceed on the merits, to determine whether or not Act 372 is constitutional.

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