A motions panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has issued an administrative stay of Judge Alan D. Albright's September 18 ruling blocking Texas's controversial book rating law. The temporary hold, which is not based on the merits of the case (and is not uncommon), puts Albright's preliminary injunction on hold while the Fifth Circuit considers the merits of an emergency motion by the state to stay the injunction, whole or in part, until the appeals court can consider the case.
The move comes a week after Albright issued a substantive 59-page written opinion and order officially blocking Texas’s controversial book rating law, HB 900, from taking effect, and after Albright orally enjoined the law at an August 31 hearing. In issuing a preliminary injunction striking down the law, Albright said it would impose "a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements" on booksellers and publishers in the state.
In a September 1 motion, the state argued for a stay of the injunction, arguing that, at the very least, the court should allow a provision of the law that requires state agencies to develop standards for “school library services” by January 1, 2024, to take effect. In response, the plaintiffs—two Texas booksellers, together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund—countered that the entire law was "constitutionally infirm" and should be blocked, including the provision calling for new state standards for school libraries.
Furthermore, in a letter motion last week, the plaintiffs asked Albright, who initially signaled his intent to block the law "in its entirety," to clarify that position in his preliminary injunction. Allowing the state to move ahead and set unconstitutional standards, the plaintiffs argued, would allow state officials "to make an end-run around the court’s order," the letter states.
It is expected that a motions panel of the Fifth will decide the issue of the stay swiftly.