Federal judge temporarily blocks Arkansas law targeting librarians

A federal judge in Arkansas temporarily blocked a law on Saturday that would implement new censorship measures against books and libraries throughout the state.

The law, Arkansas Act 372, had a temporary injunction placed on it by U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks, who wrote that the law was “likely to result in the abridgment of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights” and cause the plaintiffs “irreparable harm,” per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Brooks made his ruling on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs that had sued the state.

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Signed by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) this past March, Act 372 “removes the current exemption that protects librarians from criminal prosecution,” according to a state Senate summary. This would allow librarians and booksellers to be held criminally liable if they provide a minor with books deemed “obscene.” Under the new law, those who are charged “could be imprisoned for up to a year if convicted,” the Democrat-Gazette reported. 

In a legal brief challenging the law, the plaintiffs, which include the Arkansas ACLU, wrote that Act 372 “threatens librarians and booksellers with criminal prosecution for providing protected expression to people with a constitutional right to receive it.” The brief also noted that under the law, “librarians and booksellers could face criminal liability for providing a 17-year-old with a book that was only potentially ‘harmful’ to a 5- or 6-year-old.”

The law was slated to go into effect this August, and Act 372 could still be upheld following additional legal challenges from the state. 

“It’s regrettable that we even have to question whether our constitutional rights are still respected today,” Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Holly Dickson said. “The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials? Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties.”

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