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A Texas county removed 17 books from its libraries. An appeals court says eight must be returned.

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Eight books dealing with subjects including racism and transgender issues must be returned to library shelves in a rural Texas county that had removed them in an ongoing book banning controversy, a divided panel of three federal appeals court judges ruled Thursday.

It was a partial victory for seven library patrons who sued numerous officials with the Llano County library system and the county government after 17 books were removed. In Thursday’s opinion from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, one judge voted to uphold a lower court order that the books should be returned. Another largely agreed but said nine of the books could stay off the shelves as the appeal plays out.

A third dissented entirely, meaning a majority supported returning eight books.

In March 2023, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered 17 books returned to Kingsland library shelves while a citizen lawsuit against book banning proceeded. The works ranged from children’s books to award-winning nonfiction, including “They Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health,” by Robie Harris.

The ruling from Pitman, nominated to the federal court by former President Barack Obama, was on hold during the appeal. Thursday’s ruling was a preliminary injunction, and more court proceedings are likely.

The main opinion was by Judge Jacques Wiener, nominated to the court by former President George H. W. Bush. Wiener said the books were clearly removed at the behest of county officials who disagreed with the books’ messages.

“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,” Wiener wrote.

Judge Leslie Southwick, a nominee of former President George W. Bush, agreed, partially. He argued that some of the removals might stand a court test as the case progresses, noting that some of the books dealt more with “juvenile, flatulent humor” than weightier subjects.

“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.

Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a nominee of former President Donald Trump, dissented fully. “The commission hanging in my office says ‘Judge,’ not ‘Librarian.’ ” Duncan wrote. “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.”

The circuit covers federal courts in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

By KEVIN McGILL
Associated Press

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