Penguin Random House, Barnes & Noble, and Partners Join Together in Opposition to Texas HB900, File Amicus Brief Supporting Plaintiffs in Book People v. Wong

Press Release

New York, November 20, 2023 —On Friday, November 17th, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble, as part of a coalition with other publishers, booksellers and authors, collaborated to oppose the Texas READER Act (HB900). The publisher and retailer jointly submitted an amicus brief in support of Book People vs. Wong, a lawsuit challenging READER’s constitutionality. The Association of University Presses, the Educational Book and Media Association (EMBA), Freedom to Learn Advocates, Half Price Books, Records, Magazines, Inc., the Independent Book Publishers Association, and Sourcebooks, LLC also signed in support.

Book People v. Wong is a suit brought by a coalition of publishers, booksellers, and authors that challenges the constitutionality of HB900, which forces booksellers and publishers to label their books for sexual content according to vague and overbroad standards, requires individual parental consent for students to read certain titles, and bans others outright.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Albright blocked the law from going into effect on September 18th, stating: “READER misses the mark on obscenity with a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements. And the state, in abdicating its responsibility to protect children, forces private individuals and corporations into compliance with an unconstitutional law that violates the First Amendment.” Texas has appealed the court’s ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Penguin Random House Vice President and Associate General Counsel Dan Novack stated: “The READER Act forces publishers to stigmatize their own books – and authors – by labeling them unfit for students. It usurps the role of librarians, who apply their professional training in determining which books are right for their communities. Our brief will directly convey to 5th Circuit the damage READER will cause to publishers like us. We call upon the 5th Circuit to affirm Judge Albright’s well-reasoned opinion.”

Barnes & Noble stated: “At Barnes & Noble, we believe it is our responsibility to offer a selection of reading materials as diverse as the society in which we live, and that it is in our power as readers to be informed, to reach and to teach. The READER ACT, in compelling booksellers to adopt arbitrary and vague standards,  would do just the opposite and deprive Texas students of vital literature that students nationwide have been reading for generations. We believe librarians and teachers are the appropriate professionals to determine what students in their communities read. We are proud to join with Penguin Random House, and other publishers, booksellers and authors, to support our constitutional freedom of speech and expression. The READER Act will cause enormous damage not only to Barnes & Noble, and those who join us in this brief, but most especially to students in Texas. We urge the 5th Circuit to affirm the district court's eloquent and well-reasoned decision.” 

Excerpts from the amicus brief include,

  1. Rather than supporting educators, the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act (“READER” or the “Act”) disempowers them and forces “library materials vendors” against their will to participate in the State’s overbroad efforts to restrict access in school libraries to books that contain the amorphously defined “sexually relevant material” or “sexually explicit material.” 

  2. Book vendors are prohibited from selling “sexually explicit material” to Texas schools – even though the definition of “sexually explicit materials” does not contain an exemption for works of serious literary, artistic or scientific value. 

  3. There is no compelling rationale why Texas needs to diminish the ability of booksellers to distribute The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, or The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner to students without parental consent, solely because they contain some depictions of sex – books that many generations of students before them have read.

The amicus parties were represented by Linda Steinman of Davis Wright Tremaine and Thomas Leatherbury Law PLLC. Ojasvinee Singh, Legal Fellow at Penguin Random House, and Celyra Myers, Associate at Davis Wright Tremaine, contributed to the drafting of the brief.  

 

MEDIA CONTACTS

PRH

Claire Von Schilling | cvonschilling@penguinrandomhouse.com  

Dominique Cimina | dcimina@penguinrandomhouse.com | 212-782-9314

 

Barnes & Noble

Debb Hanks, Barnes & Noble, Inc.

dhanks@bn.com | (646) 592-2048

 

About Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher, is dedicated to its mission to ignite a universal passion for reading by creating books for everyone. The company, which employs more than 10,000 people globally, was formed on July 1, 2013, by Bertelsmann and Pearson. As of April 1, 2020, Bertelsmann is full owner of the company. With more than 300 imprints and brands on six continents, Penguin Random House comprises adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital English- German- and Spanish-language trade book publishing businesses in more than 20 countries worldwide. With over 16,000 new titles, and more than 700 million print, audio and eBooks sold annually, Penguin Random House’s publishing lists include more than 80 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

About Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble, Inc. (“Barnes & Noble”) is the world’s largest retail bookseller and a leading retailer of content, digital media and educational products. The Company operates approximately 600 Barnes & Noble bookstores across the United States, and one of the Web’s premier e-commerce sites, BN.com. Barnes & Noble’s mission is to operate the best omni-channel specialty retail business in America, helping both its customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities it serves.