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Authors Guild Applauds Fifth Circuit Decision Protecting the First Amendment in Llano County Library Case

In a crucial victory for the First Amendment, on June 6, 2024, the Fifth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction in Little et al. v. Llano County, requiring the public library in Llano County, Texas, to restore seventeen books to its shelves. The plaintiffs, who were library patrons, alleged that the county, officials, library board, and a local judge had engaged in unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination” by removing these books based on the views expressed within them.

The District Court had ordered Llano County to return the removed books pending the resolution of the litigation. Rather than comply, county officials considered closing the library, but county residents, including at least one Guild member, objected, and the library did not close to the public. In its decision, the Fifth Circuit affirmed that most of the removed books must be restored, with a few exceptions noted by one of the judges, Leslie H. Southwick. 

Judge Southwick asserted that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden for certain books, including the “butt and fart books” (e.g., I Broke My Butt! and Larry the Farting Leprechaun); Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, which features cartoon drawings of a naked child; and It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health. The judge said, “Viewpoints and ideas are few in number in a book titled Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose.” Additionally, he exempted the Sendak and Harris books, claiming that their removal was part of the library’s efforts to address concerns about promoting grooming and containing sexually explicit material inappropriate for children. 

The Llano County case demonstrates that attempts to restrict minors’ access to certain books can also infringe upon the First Amendment rights of adults, extending well beyond the school environment. It is worth noting that the Authors Guild Foundation recently honored librarian Suzette Baker, who was fired for refusing to remove books from the library in Kingsland, Texas, as instructed by the same Llano County authorities. Baker has also filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation for her efforts to oppose the library’s discriminatory practices and the infringement of her First Amendment rights. 

We will continue to monitor Little v. Llano County and will consider weighing in with an amicus brief if appropriate.