Ken Paxton files brief supporting restrictive Texas book law
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Suspended Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton, right, talks with his attorney Tony Buzbee, left, before closing arguments in his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Mere days after being acquitted of corruption and misconduct allegations by a Republican-led state senate, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has jumped right back into the fray, lending his name to a brief supporting restrictive book regulations in the Lone Star State.

The failed impeachment effort against Paxton, who was accused of taking bribes, obstructing justice, issuing improper grand jury subpoenas, and violating state whistleblower laws by firing employees who reported his misconduct, came to an end Saturday. Thirty state senators spent around eight hours deliberating what they had heard from more than a dozen witnesses during the two-week trial, and, according to the Texas Tribune, not one of the 16 articles of impeachment came close to garnering the necessary 21 votes to convict.

By Wednesday, Paxton had submitted a brief to the Fifth U.S. Circuit in a case challenging the state’s newly enacted so-called READER law, which ostensibly aims to “create standards for ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘sexually relevant’ materials” available in school libraries. The law — officially titled the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act — would require booksellers to “categorize any books they sell or have ever sold to schools according to those standards and issue a recall for any ‘sexually explicit’ materials that they sold to schools.” It would also prohibit schools from purchasing any material deemed “sexually explicit” and obtain parental consent for students to read or check out any books deemed “sexually relevant.”

A group of booksellers who had contracted with the state to provide books to public schools sued, alleging that the law is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, forced compelled speech, and acted as a prior restraint. On Monday, U.S. Federal Judge Alan Albright agreed, finding that the law violates the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment, and dismissed the state defendants’ motion to dismiss. He also issued an injunction barring enforcement of the law.

Albright appeared to take issue with the fact that third-party booksellers — and not state officials — were being tasked with creating the “sexually explicit” and “sexually relevant” standards, which could be reversed or overruled at any time by a state education agency.

“For whatever reason, Texas chose not to have anyone employed by the state at any level make the initial evaluation of the sexual content,” Albright wrote. “It chose instead to impose this extraordinarily difficult and prohibitively expensive burden solely on third parties with totally insufficient guidance. And worse still, no matter how much time and expense the third parties invest in complying, the State (through the Texas Education Agency) retained the power to unilaterally alter any decision made by the third party.”

Albright also noted that “the level of sexual content in each book” is “a subjective issue reasonable people can disagree about.”

The state appealed almost immediately.

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