Aug 31, 2022 - Politics

Judge rejects Virginia delegate's book banning effort

Illustration of a gavel on a book instead of a block.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A Virginia judge on Tuesday rejected a GOP state delegate's request to declare two books obscene and restrict their sales to children.

What's happening: The challenge, which drew national attention from book publishers and free speech groups, cited an arcane Virginia law governing the sale of obscene materials.

  • Judge Pamela Baskerville dismissed the case Tuesday, ruling the statute was unconstitutional, the Virginia Mercury reports.

Why it matters: The Virginia Beach case grew out of a nationwide push by the right to restrict content in school libraries. It represents one of the movement's first attempts to go beyond school walls to limit how private booksellers conduct business.

  • More than 10 lawyers appeared in court representing authors, publishers and booksellers, per Slate.

Details: Under the 1950s-era law, people in Virginia can file lawsuits against books themselves.

  • That's exactly what Del. Tim Anderson, a lawyer and newly-elected Republican delegate from Virginia Beach, did. He was representing Tommy Altman, a former GOP congressional candidate.

The two men sought to restrict the sale of two books.

  • "Gender Queer," an LGBTQ+ memoir that contains an illustration of oral sex, has been a frequent target of parental challenges.
  • "A Court of Mist and Fury," is a fantasy novel with sex scenes, which Anderson said came to his attention because it was on the shelves at a local middle school library.

What they're saying: Lawyers who opposed the restrictions said that even if the obscenity law were constitutional, it wouldn't apply to the works in question.

  • The law defines obscene books as having sex as a dominant theme and no "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."

The other side: Anderson said he and his client are weighing an appeal.

  • He also hinted that the ruling might prompt him to pursue legislation to create an age-rating system for books, per the Mercury.
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