Home Bookselling Judge rejects efforts to ban two books using obscenity law

Judge rejects efforts to ban two books using obscenity law


Booksellers, publishers and libraries scored a victory in court on Tuesday as a Virginia judge threw out the state’s nearly 75-year-old obscenity law application to two books that have upset people. Virginia Beach Republican politicians.

Under the Abstruse Book Ban Act, citizens are allowed to sue individual books (and other forms of media), ask a court to have those books found to be legally obscene, and then have those books considered their distribution as criminal. The production, sale, or possession of obscene materials is a crime in the Old Dominion State.

“Upon the filing of a motion under this section, the court in term or vacation shall forthwith examine the allegedly obscene book,” the law on the determination of obscenity says. “If the court finds no probable cause to believe the book obscene, the judge thereof will dismiss the petition; but if the court finds probable cause to believe that the book is obscene, the judge of that court will make an order as to why the book should not be found obscene.

The Circuit Court for the City of Virginia Beach denied motions to remove two books from the state: (1) Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe; and (2) A court of mist and fury by Sarah JK Maas. The first book is a memoir; the second is young adult fantasy fiction.

“We are satisfied with the outcome of today’s proceedings,” the lead attorney for the ACLU of Virginia said. Matt Callahan said after the judgment. “The First Amendment protects literary expression, even when some people find parts of the works difficult or objectionable. Everyone should be able to choose what they want to read.

The books have been targeted by conservatives for their explicit depictions of sex, which they say are not acceptable content for young readers.

Although the Obscenity Petitions Act has not been used in decades, the State Delegate Tim Andersonan attorney, filed the two lawsuits on behalf of a former GOP congressional candidate and current tattoo shop owner Tommy Altmanarguing that parents should have more control over what their children read and that sexually explicit scenes in books were inappropriate for young readers.

The lawsuits were brought in the larger context of the current conservative culture war on LGBTQ rights and ideas. Anderson, however, says the thematic content of the two books was not the problem.

“There was never any question of trying to ban gay literature or trans literature,” the lawyer said. USA today. “It was just to say that these have really explicit sexual content and it’s not appropriate for children.”

At the end of May, the judge Pamela Baskervill issued a ruling finding that there were “probable grounds to believe” that the books were “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors” and ordered the authors and publishers of the books to object to the ruling.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia represented four local booksellers as well as various book sales and free expression groups in motions to dismiss the proceeding. National bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has also hired a First Amendment lawyer to fight obscenity petitions. Other free-speech and First Amendment groups have also rallied to defend the books in court.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Baskervill, who is retired but heard the case due to a conflict of interest from all the other justices in the area, said the law was ‘facially invalid’ because it authorizes an unconstitutional “pre-restraint” which plans to authorize the government to police speech before it even happens. The judge also cited jurisdictional reasons for dismissing the obscenity petitions, saying that the state law in question does not really authorize giving a court the power to determine whether the books are obscene for minors in particular. , a point the ACLU pushed in press releases and court documents.

Baskervill also expressed practical concerns about enforcement against people who sold or lent a book deemed obscene.

“It is not for the court to legislate,” wrote the judge.

The ACLU welcomed the court’s decision on Twitter:

Anderson plans to appeal the decision to a higher court, he told the Virginia Mercury.

[image via David Livingston/Getty Images]

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