Court Hears Argument in Booksellers’ Challenge to Louisiana Age-Verification Law

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On Friday, December 18, attorneys representing two New Orleans bookstores and the American Booksellers Association appeared before a federal judge in Baton Rouge and urged him to block enforcement of a new Louisiana law that requires website owners to verify that visitors to their sites are 18 or older before providing access to non-obscene material that could be deemed “harmful to minors” because of its sexual content. Failure to comply is punishable by a $10,000 fine.

ABA, Garden District Book Shop, and Octavia Books are challenging the law as a violation of the First Amendment rights of booksellers, publishers, and readers. The other plaintiffs are the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Future Crawfish Paper, a Louisiana company that publishes the magazine Anti-Gravity.

The plaintiffs argued that the law will have a chilling effect on the rights of both adults and older minors. An age-verification page will make some adults reluctant to buy from a website that appears to sell “adult” material. In addition, courts have held that older minors have a right to purchase books with sexual content that is appropriate for their age. However, the Louisiana law bars everyone under 18 from accessing all “harmful” material.

Michael A. Bamberger, the general counsel of Media Coalition and a partner in Dentons US LLP, and Lee Rowland and Esha Bhandari, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, were opposed by a lawyer for the state during a 90-minute hearing before Judge Brian A. Jackson, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The judge requested post-hearing briefs and/or declarations to be filed by January 15, 2016.

The plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction is available online.