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Full appeals court to hear Llano County library suit in September

Four of 17 books listed in a civil lawsuit against Llano County were on the shelves of the Llano County Library on April 3, 2023, after a U.S. district judge issued a preliminary injunction for their return that March. The issue is currently before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A Llano County library lawsuit regarding removed books will be reheard before the full U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans around Sept. 23. A three-judge panel’s June 6 ruling in support of a preliminary injunction issued by a lower court has been vacated. 

Appellants (defendants) in the Leila Little et al. v. Llano County et al. civil suit have until Aug. 2 to file an en banc (full court) brief. Appellees (plaintiffs) have until Sept. 3 to file a brief. As of Monday, July 8, the exact time and date for oral arguments had not been set. 

On June 6, the three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in favor of the plaintiffs, 365 days after hearing oral arguments last summer. The majority opinion stated the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their case on claims that their First Amendment rights were violated when 17 books were removed from the library system’s shelves and online catalog on the instruction of government officials, who called them “pornographic filth.” The books included a national bestseller on racism and the KKK and several written by LGBTQ+ authors on issues in the gay community. Also removed were children’s picture books that joked about farts and butts.

“Government actors may not remove books from a public library with the intent to deprive patrons of access to ideas with which they disagree,” Court of Appeals Judge Jacques L. Wiener wrote in the majority opinion in June.

The ruling upheld a preliminary injunction issued on March 30, 2023, to re-shelve 17 books, but reduced the number to eight. (The children’s books do not have to be returned because they do not discuss political ideas, according to the ruling.) The defendants appealed Judge Robert Pitman’s order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin to the Fifth Circuit. 

The district court case has been on hold since the appeal was filed.

The case has national consequences and has drawn scrutiny from major book publishers and state attorneys general. 

The Association of American Publishers, seven major book publishers, and three library-related associations filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief supporting the plaintiffs during the original hearing last summer.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, along with 15 other states, filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the defendants in asking for an en banc hearing. 

The plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in April 2022, are Llano County residents and library system users Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring, and Diane Moster. 

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

BOOKS IN QUESTION

The 17 books removed from library shelves are:

  • “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson 
  • “They Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • “Spinning” by Tillie Walden 
  • “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak 
  • “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris
  • “My Butt is So Noisy!,” “I Broke My Butt!,” and “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan
  • “Larry the Farting Leprechaun,” “Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose,” “Freddie the Farting Snowman,” and “Harvey the Heart Had Too Many Farts” by Jane Bexley
  • “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings
  • “Shine” by Lauren Myracle
  • “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Selina Kyle
  • “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
  • “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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