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Preliminary injunction request filed against Llano County Library System

Preliminary injunction request filed against Llano County Library System

The preliminary injunction request filed against the Llano County Library System in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

A request for a preliminary injunction against the Llano County Library System was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, May 9, the same day the Llano County Commissioners Court voted to change e-reader services based on the material available to young readers. 

The county switched to Biblioteca from OverDrive because OverDrive carries at least two books the local library system removed from its shelves in recent months. However, one of those books, “Lawn Boy,” has been requested from a Biblioteca customer and might be available soon. 

The Commissioners Court called a special meeting for 2:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12, to hire outside counsel “for legal representation of the Llano County Judge, Commissioners, Employees, and Library Advisory Board Members due to civil litigation filed against individuals in United States District Court: Leila Green Little, et. al v. Llano County et al; Case Number: 5:22-CV-00400-JKP.”

If the injunction is granted by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, it would require Llano County to return to its shelves the books that were removed based on recommendations by the Llano County Library Advisory Board. If the judge finds that the new e-book service prevents access to those books, the county would have to return its service to OverDrive. 

“We are trying to reinstate the status quo pending determination of the ultimate lawsuit,” said Ellen Leonida, head of the legal team from BraunHagey & Borden LLP that is handling the case for the plaintiffs. “If they don’t, they would be in contempt of court and the case would go back to the judge to enforce.”

The initial civil action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas-San Antonio Division but was moved to the Austin Division, where the preliminary injunction was filed. 

“To prevail, we have to show we legally are likely to win,” Leonida said. “The judge may have a hearing or may rule based on the papers we filed.”

The plaintiffs’ Rule 65 motion for a preliminary injunction lays out the case in a 28-page document. 

“Book banning offends basic First Amendment principles and strikes at the core of our democracy,” reads part of the introduction on page 6. 

The text goes on to charge that the defendants “have perpetuated a systematic campaign to eradicate books containing ideas or messages that they disagree with from the County’s library collection.” Defendants are defined as “the public officials who control which books are available in the County’s public libraries.” 

The motion states that “defendants have transformed the County’s public libraries from contemplative spaces where residents can explore the marketplace of ideas to battlegrounds in defendants’ political and ideological war. More troubling still, defendants have taken steps to cloak their censorship activities in secrecy and insulate it from all forms of community review and scrutiny.”

After disbanding an eight-member library advisory board, county commissioners appointed a new 13-member board that rewrote the bylaws and, after a handful of public meetings, decided to close its meetings to the public

According to emails received by the plaintiffs as the result of Freedom of Information Act requests, the books banned are included in a list of 850 books compiled by Texas Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) that was sent to Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham. 

Which books the county banned and why lies at the heart of the lawsuit, according to the injunction, which is why plaintiffs are likely to prevail, it states. 

“Defendants’ book banning is driven by their antipathy to the ideas in the banned books,” the document reads. “Publicly, Defendants have claimed that their purge is aimed at removing ‘pornographic’ materials from library shelves. But the evidence shows that this is mere pretext.”

The motion gives as an example a historical nonfiction book titled ‘”They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” which was banned from Llano County libraries. Plaintiffs charge the book was banned because of the political views of the author. 

“Indeed, none of the books Defendants have targeted is obscene or pornographic in any fashion,” the motion continues. “To the contrary, many of the banned books have received prestigious literary awards and national acclaim. The true motivation behind Defendants’ censorship is the subject matter and viewpoint of these books, many of which address contemporary issues related to sexuality, sex education, gender identity, and racial equality. Because Defendants’ suppression of information was driven by their subjective views and opinions, their conduct constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination — a per se violation of the First Amendment. Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294, 2299 (2019).”

Whether or not the injunction is granted, the original case will move forward, Leonida said.

“The court is expected to decide relatively quickly in the world of civil litigation,” she said of the preliminary injunction. “This will go faster than resolving the ultimate case.” 

Plaintiffs in the case are Llano County residents Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring, and Diane Moster. 

Listed defendants are Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham; commissioners Jerry Don Moss, Peter Jones, Mike Sandoval, and Linda Raschke; Llano County Library System Director Amber Milum; and Llano County Library Advisory Board members Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, Rhonda Schneider, and Gay Baskin.

suzanne@thepicayune.com