Suit Challenges Arkansas Act 372, a Bill That Would Restrict Access to Books in State Book Stores and Public Libraries

A broad coalition of authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and readers today filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas challenging Arkansas Act 372, a law that would restrict access to books in bookstores and libraries located within the state, and in the process violate the First Amendment rights of the state’s reading public. The bill was signed by the Governor of Arkansas on March 30th and is slated to go into effect on August 1st.

Several plaintiffs issued the following statement upon filing:

Together, we have filed this lawsuit to protect the first amendment rights of Arkansas’ reading community. Arkansas Act 372 robs the state’s readers of their constitutional right to receive information and threatens the state’s booksellers and librarians with extreme punishments for performing their core – and essential – function of making books available to the public. This law will ultimately force bookstores and librarians to restrict their offerings to works that are suitable for minors, or bar them from entering institutions that have long served as the nexus between community and learning.

“We oppose any and all efforts to undermine the First Amendment, which is foundational to our democracy and critical to the lawful exchange of art, literature, and information. Books have long shaped our understanding of the world around us and provided readers with the chance to explore topics that span a vast spectrum of ideas and experiences. The booksellers and librarians of Arkansas are stewards of that proud tradition, and their essential mission of serving the state’s readers must be preserved.”

The plaintiffs in the suit include the American Booksellers Association, Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, and two local bookstores – WordsWorth Books in Little Rock and Pearl’s Books in Fayetteville – and the Association of American Publishers, as well as a consortium of local libraries, librarians, and library advocates, which includes Fayetteville Public Library, Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library, Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), Arkansas Library Association, Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries, Nate Coulter (Executive Director of CALS); Adam Webb, a librarian from Garland County; Olivia Farrell, an adult CALS patron; Hayden Kirby, a 17-year-old CALS patron; and Leta Caplinger, a patron of the Crawford County Public Library.

The lawsuit will challenge two provisions of Act 372 that violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. One component of the new law makes it a crime for libraries, booksellers, and any brick-and-mortar establishment to display or make available works that might be harmful to minors. This will require libraries and booksellers to segregate and restrict access to any book that would not be suitable for their youngest readers, or to exclude all minor readers from their premises. The second provision makes it possible for any person in Arkansas to demand the removal of a book the person deems inappropriate, limiting readers to one person’s opinion about what books should be in the library.

Counsel for the various plaintiffs include John T. Adams of Fuqua Campbell, P.A.; Michael Bamberger of Dentons; Bettina Brownstein of the ACLU of Arkansas; and Benjamin Seel and Will Bardwell of Democracy Forward.