After a nearly two-year legal battle over accessibility to explicit children’s books in Llano County, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that some of the books originally removed must be returned to library shelves. 

In 2022, Llano County officials were sued for removing explicit books from the children’s section of the library. The books included “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teenager” and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” both of which feature radical gender ideology and critical race theory.

In 2023, Obama appointed federal Judge Robert Pitman ordered that 17 of the originally removed books must be returned to library shelves. Shortly after his order, Llano County officials appealed his decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

On Thursday, the court ruled that eight of the 17 removed books be returned to library shelves. One judge moved to uphold Pitman’s order to return all books, while another, who largely agreed, said nine books could stay off the shelves as the appeal continues. A third judge dissented from both previous judges, leading the majority to agree on returning eight books. 

The main opinion from the court was written by Judge Jacques Wiener, who was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush—saying that the First Amendment limits public libraries’ discretion to shape their collections. 

“But a book may not be removed for the sole—or a substantial— reason that the decisionmaker does not wish patrons to be able to access the book’s viewpoint or message,” reads the opinion. 

Judge Leslie Southwick, nominated by former president George W. Bush, partly concurred with Wiener’s opinion, saying some of the book removals could stand a court test as the case continues. 

“Perhaps a librarian selected the book believing the juvenile content would encourage juveniles to read. Even if that is so, I do not find those books were removed on the basis of a dislike for the ideas within them when it has not been shown the books contain any ideas with which to disagree,” Southwick wrote. “At this stage of the case, I find the motivations behind some of the removals here are likely defensible and cannot satisfy the standard for a preliminary injunction.”

The lone dissenting judge—Stuart Kyle Duncan—nominated by former President Donald Trump, disagreed with both opinions saying, “The commission hanging in my office says ‘Judge,’ not ‘Librarian.’ Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that my two esteemed colleagues have appointed themselves co-chairs of every public library board across the Fifth Circuit.”

“In that new role, they have issued ‘rules’ for when librarians can remove books from the shelves and when they cannot. While I do not doubt my colleagues’ good intentions, these ‘rules’ are a disaster. They lack any basis in law or common sense. And applying them will be a nightmare,” he continued.

Bonnie Wallace, who serves as the vice chairman of the Llano County Library Advisory Board, told Texas Scorecard that she sees the order as a victory. 

“If you just break down the ruling, you can see that 9 of the 17 books which are in the lawsuit were allowed to be removed while the litigation continues forward. Each of those 9 books which show nudity, sex acts, or sex organs was allowed to be removed. I interpret this as a victory,” said Wallace. “Of the 8 books which were required to remain on the shelves, my guess is that the judges on the 5th Circuit didn’t read them. The good news is if they didn’t like the sex depictions in the 9 books, they aren’t going to like the sex descriptions in several of the 8 books.”  

“It is an interesting time to be paying attention to what is going on in libraries across the state of Texas,” she added. 

The eight books to be returned to the library are:

  1. “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson
  2. “Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  3. “Spinning” by Tillie Walden
  4. “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings
  5. “Shine” by Lauren Myracle
  6. “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Lauren Myracle
  7. “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
  8. “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.