The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from enforcing a state law requiring booksellers to rate the explicitness and relevance of sexual references in materials they sell to schools.
The Texas Tribune reports that the appellate court sided with booksellers who sued the state, asserting that House Bill 900 violated their First Amendment rights. The ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision to prevent TEA Commissioner Mike Morath from enforcing the 2023 law.
The plaintiffs — which include bookshops in Houston and Austin, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild — argue that it is logistically impossible and cost-prohibitive to comply with the law.
The law requires vendors to rate all their books and materials for appropriateness, based on the presence of sex depictions or references, before selling them to school libraries.
Booksellers would have to submit ratings of materials to the TEA for review, which the state could correct and then publicly post online.
The appeals court agreed with the vendors’ argument that the rating system violates their free speech protections and amounted to compelled speech that forced vendors to support a certain point of view.
The court also agreed that complying with the law would be an undue economic burden on the vendors.
The appeals court decision did not completely block the law. Still in effect is a component of HB 900 that requires the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to create new library collection standards. The new rules must prohibit school libraries from acquiring or keeping sexually explicit materials.
Supporters of HB 900 have argued the law restores parents' rights to protect their children from certain themes, rather than exposing them to potentially inappropriate material in publicly funded books.
Opponents, which include librarians, literacy advocates and other parents, say laws like HB 900 often target books and materials that explore sexuality and race — topics that, while uncomfortable to some, are important for youth who may not typically see their lived experiences reflected in literature.