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Two new Crawford County plaintiffs join federal suit challenging Arkansas’ library obscenity law

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Two new Crawford County plaintiffs join federal suit challenging Arkansas’ library obscenity law

Feb 23, 2024 | 6:30 am ET
By Tess Vrbin
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Two new Crawford County plaintiffs join federal suit challenging Arkansas’ library obscenity law
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Two new plaintiffs have joined an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging an Arkansas law that would change how libraries handle controversial material.

In January, 17-year-old Madeline Partain and her mother, Miel, of Crawford County, joined 17 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Act 372 of 2023, according to court documents.

The suit originally had 18 plaintiffs when it was filed in June. U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks temporarily blocked two sections of Act 372 in July, shortly before the law was scheduled to go into effect, and the case is expected to go to trial in mid-October.

Act 372 would alter libraries’ material reconsideration processes and open the door to criminal charges against librarians who distribute content that some consider “obscene” or “harmful to minors.” Brooks enjoined the sections that would create criminal liability and give local elected officials the final say over whether a challenged book can stay on library shelves.

The plaintiffs in the suit include public library systems, independent bookstores, free speech advocates and individual library patrons.

Hayden Kirby of Little Rock was 17 when the suit was filed, and her mother, Jennie Kirby, was a plaintiff as her minor child’s representative. Hayden has since turned 18 and is still a plaintiff while her mother is not.

Having an older minor as a plaintiff matters to the lawsuit, said John Adams, a Little Rock attorney representing some of the plaintiffs.

“Given that the group of readers who are more mature, 16- or 17-year-old minors, are among the people most directly affected, it’s certainly good that we have that involved in the case,” he said Thursday.

Keeping all individuals under 18 away from books that are not appropriate for younger minors “would likely impose an unnecessary and unjustified burden on any older minor’s ability to access free library books appropriate to his or her age and reading level,” Brooks wrote in his preliminary injunction ruling.

The other individual citizens challenging Act 372 are Olivia Farrell of Pulaski County, Leta Caplinger of Crawford County, Garland County Library executive director Adam Webb and Central Arkansas Library System executive director Nate Coulter.

Rapert tries to block funding for libraries suing Arkansas over 2023 obscenity law

CALS, the Fayetteville Public Library and the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library are the three public library systems challenging the law.

Earlier this month, former state Sen. Jason Rapert unsuccessfully tried to withhold funding for all three libraries at his first meeting as a member of the Arkansas State Library Board.

Supporters of Act 372, including Rapert, have said LGBTQ+ books should be segregated in sections of libraries only accessible to adults, as written in the partially blocked law.

The Crawford County Library System segregated LGBTQ+ children’s books in 2022 after public backlash, and ​​the county faces two separate lawsuits over the matter, including the one against the state over Act 372.

In the second lawsuit, filed by three parents whose minor children are library patrons, a federal judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction in September.