A federal lawsuit is being filed against Llano County officials over claims that actions taking place in the county’s library system violate rights in the First and Fourteenth amendments. A complaint, which is the legal document needed to initiate a lawsuit, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, a federal district court, at about 10 a.m. Monday, April 25.
The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of plaintiffs Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring, and Diane Moster, all of whom are Llano County residents and users of the library system.
“More than a gathering space for topical lectures, group meetings, and crafting projects, Llano County’s public libraries provide Plaintiffs and other community members with a quiet and contemplative space to explore the marketplace of ideas and pursue the knowledge contained within the books on library shelves,” the 32-page legal document reads. “Though Plaintiffs differ in their ages, professions, and individual religious and political beliefs, they are fiercely united in their love for reading public library books and in their belief that the government cannot dictate which books they can and cannot read.”
Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, county Commissioners Peter Jones, Linda Raschke, Mike Sandoval, and Jerry Don Moss, and library system Director Amber Milum are individually named as defendants. Newly instated Library Advisory Board members Gay Baskin, Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, and Rhonda Schnieder are also named as defendants.
The complaint claims county officials violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights laid out in the First Amendment, which protects freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and the press.
Some examples outlined in the legal document are the removal of 12 books, including “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings; the suspension of new book acquisitions; and the decision to discontinue use of the online reading service OverDrive, which now operates as Libby.
The complaint also states that the rights laid out in the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees U.S. citizens the right to due process, are being violated.
That part of the complaint argues that the aforementioned actions were done secretively and without due process as laid out in the county’s adopted policies and guidelines published by the Texas Library Association and other industry experts. It also references the county Library Advisory Board’s recent decision to close meetings to the public.
“Bringing legal claims under both the First and Fourteenth amendments allows Plaintiffs to ask the judge not only to order defendants to put banned books back on the shelves and reinstate OverDrive access, but also to mandate certain procedural protections be put in place to ensure that defendants can’t engage in this kind of censorship again in the future,” said Amy Senia, an associate with BraunHagey & Borden.
Now that the initial complaint has been filed, the next step in the legal process will be to serve a copy of the complaint and legal summons to all of the defendants named.
In addition to the complaint, the plaintiffs’ legal team is also working on filing a motion for preliminary injunction, which is a pre-trial court order that would require the county to immediately roll back restrictions in question, such as bringing new books into the library system and putting the previously removed books back on the shelves.