In "Harmful to Minors" Case, Arkansas Judge Has Questions, Not Answers

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On Monday, December 8, a federal judge in District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock said he needed answers before he could rule on whether amendments to an Arkansas statute that restrict the "display" of material that is "harmful to minors," among other things, violates the First Amendment, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In June 2003, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), Arkansas' That Bookstore in Blytheville, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, and others challenged the constitutionality of the law.

The new amendments, which were supposed to go into effect at the end of last June but did not pending outcome of the plaintiffs' challenge, would require retailers -- at the risk of jail or fines -- to segregate any work that is "harmful to minors" in an "adults-only" section of the store.

The plaintiffs contend that the new law would violate the First Amendment rights of adults by restricting their access to a wide range of novels and nonfiction books that have some sexual content, but also have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Moreover, they argue that the law unconstitutionally requires retailers and libraries to prevent all minors from accessing constitutionally protected materials that may be considered inappropriate for younger minors.

At the hearing, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele questioned the language of the act, ADG reported, and asked what the law meant by "display" -- whether it meant placing books, magazines, and videos in prominent areas in the store, or simply placing books on shelves with just their bindings showing. Furthermore, he wondered if there were similar statutes elsewhere. The judge gave the Arkansas attorney general's office and the plaintiffs -- who filed briefs prior to Monday's hearing -- 10 days to address some additional questions. He also noted he may seek clarification from the Arkansas Supreme Court, the article noted.

In addition to That Bookstore in Blytheville, ABFFE, and the ACLU of Arkansas, other plaintiffs in the suit are the Arkansas Library Association, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, and International Periodical Distributors Association.