Booksellers Knock Out Unconstitutional Louisiana Law

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Two New Orleans bookstores have won their legal challenge to a Louisiana law that would have required them to verify the age of visitors to their websites. A federal judge in Baton Rouge on Friday, October 7, permanently enjoined the law for violating the First Amendment rights of both website owners and their customers. Judge Brian A. Jackson also ordered state and local officials who were defendants in the case to reimburse the plaintiff attorneys’ fees and other costs incurred in challenging the law.

Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books joined the American Booksellers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and Antigravity, a Louisiana magazine, in filing the lawsuit in November 2015, after the state legislature passed the law.

“This is an important victory for me as a bookseller and for my customers,” said Tom Lowenburg, the co-owner of Octavia Books. Britton Trice, the owner of Garden District Book Shop, agreed. “This law would have had a definite chilling effect on our business, depriving our customers of books that they have a First Amendment right to browse and buy,” he said.

To comply with the law, bookstore and publisher websites would have been faced with one of two untenable options. They could have used an age confirmation page to verify that visitors to their sites were 18 or older before providing access, which would have given customers the idea that they were “for adults only,” or they would have had to review all of the books or magazines available on their websites and place the age verification page before each jacket cover or other image that might be deemed “harmful to minors.” Violators could have been fined up to $10,000.

Media Coalition, a trade association that defends the First Amendment rights of producers and distributors of books, magazines, and other media, brought the lawsuit on behalf of ABA and the bookstores. It was joined by the ACLU national office and ACLU of Louisiana.