Victory in the Fifth Circuit in the Case of Book People v. Wong

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The preliminary injunction against the READER Act (formerly Texas HB 900) was reinstated on January 17, 2024 in the case of Book People v. Wong, with a decision written by Judge Don Willett of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Significantly, the court agreed with all of the plaintiffs’ major arguments and upheld the district court’s decision. 

The preliminary injunction was issued November 13, 2023 by Judge Alan D. Albright of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. The READER Act would force vendors to schools to rate titles in all past and future sales to a school district or be barred from selling to them. 

The State appealed the preliminary injunction to the Fifth Circuit, at which point an “administrative stay” was put in place — effectively allowing the law to remain in effect while the appeal was heard. This latest ruling means the law is once again NOT in effect, pending a final decision on the case.

In affirming Judge Albright’s earlier ruling, Judge Willett noted that “Plaintiffs have an interest in selling books without being coerced to speak the State’s preferred message,” going on to say that he was “unpersuaded” by the State’s argument that the READER Act does not implicate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.

The Fifth Circuit also agreed with Judge Albright’s preliminary injunction that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their First Amendment claims, and “likely to sustain economic and constitutional injuries” if the law remained in effect.

The following are joint remarks from Valerie Koehler, owner of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, Charley Rejsek, the CEO of Austin, Texas-based bookstore, BookPeople, Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild; and Jeff Trexler, Interim Director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

“We are grateful for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decisive action in striking down this unconstitutional law. With this historic decision the court has moved decisively to ensure the constitutionally protected speech of authors, booksellers, publishers, and readers, and prevent the state government from unlawfully compelling speech on the part of private citizens. The court’s decision also shields Texas businesses from the imposition of impossibly onerous conditions, protects the basic constitutional rights of the plaintiffs, and lets Texas parents make decisions for their own children without government interference or control. This is a good day for bookstores, readers, and free expression.”

This is a significant victory and worth celebrating, but not a conclusive one. We will keep you informed as the case progresses.

Here is more information on the case.