ABA and Partners File Lawsuit to Protect the Right to Read

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ABA, along with the American Booksellers for Free Expression, ABA’s free speech initiative, is challenging Arkansas Act 372, which would have a chilling effect on free speech and be a threat to the livelihood of booksellers and the rights of readers in Arkansas. 

Allison Hill, ABA CEO, made the following statement:

Arkansas's Act 372 denies residents of Arkansas their constitutional right to decide for themselves and their children what they read, and criminalizes the important work of librarians and booksellers to connect readers with books — a bookseller could go to jail for displaying a book in the fiction section of their store! This bill is vague, impractical, and unconstitutional.

ABA is committed to protecting and supporting booksellers' First Amendment rights in Arkansas and every other state, and we're in good company with our coalition of authors, publishers, bookstores, and librarians as we file this suit on behalf of our members and in support of democracy.

Arkansas independent bookstore members could be charged with a misdemeanor (first offense) or a felony (second offense) for selling, displaying, or marketing legal materials in their own bookstores. It is impossible for a bookseller to know the contents of every book in their store and impossible to define “harmful” for everyone.

Act 372 could also prompt individuals — especially those that belong to censorship groups — to enter a bookstore for the express purpose of finding a book that they believe is offensive simply to get a bookseller into legal trouble for selling a book that they don’t like. This could understandably force some bookstores to not display a diverse array of literary works for fear that they could run afoul of the law. 

We trust individuals to make decisions about what books they want to read, and we strongly object to Arkansas taking away the rights of their residents and their booksellers.

Of Note:

This provision is similar to the provisions held unconstitutional in Shipley, Inc. v. Long, a 2004 Arkansa case in which ABA was a plaintiff that successfully challenged the criminalization of the display of harmful to minors materials. The Shipley federal court found the display provisions to be “facially unconstitutional...because such provisions are overbroad and impose unconstitutional prior restraints on the availability and display of constitutionally protected non-obscene materials to both adults and older minors.”

ABA wishes to thank the members of the Media Coalition and the many organizations and individuals that joined with us on this challenge — especially the independent bookstores! 

The List of Plaintiffs:

Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries
American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Foundation
American Booksellers Association
Arkansas Library Association
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild
CALS Executive Director Nate Coulter
Central Arkansas Library System (CALS)
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library
Fayetteville Public Library
Garland County Library Executive Director Adam Webb
Hayden Kirby, a 17-year-old CALS patron and a student at Little Rock Central High School
Jennie Kirby, Hayden’s mother
Olivia Farrell, an adult CALS patron
Pearl’s Books, an independent bookstore in Fayetteville
WordsWorth Books, an independent bookstore in Little Rock