On November 17, a group of eight local plaintiffs joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and advocacy group the Northern Justice project filed suit against Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Mat-Su) school district north of Anchorage, seeking the return of 56 books said to be improperly banned from school shelves. The suit was filed on behalf of six parents of minor children and two Mat-Su students who are over the age of 18, who claim that the actions of the school board violated their "First and Fourteenth Amendment rights" to free speech and political expression.

“On April 21, 2023, the School Board ordered the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to remove 56 books from all of its school libraries because the books contained ideas or concepts that either the Board or some members of the public did not like. The District carried out this removal of books,” the complaint states. While acknowledging that “school districts have broad discretion in the management of school affairs,” the suit argues that “such broad discretion is still bounded by the protections of the U.S. Constitution” and that the districts removal of the books infringes on students First Amendment right “to receive ideas and information as a necessary predicate to their meaningful exercise of the rights of speech, press, and political freedom."

The books ordered removed by the board include classics such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. The removed books also include books “with protagonists of color or LGBTQ+ protagonists” and “nonfiction reference materials discussing adolescent health and development.”

The plaintiffs seek “an injunction, declaratory relief, and nominal damages against the Board’s unconstitutional removal of books, to protect their right and freedom to explore a wide range of ideas.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alaska legal director Ruth Botstein, said the Mat-Su board put “its personal views” ahead of the rights of students and parents it serves. “Removing classic reads and award-winning literature from bookshelves violates students’ rights to receive ideas and information. This is a foundational component of the rights of young Alaskans to exercise freedom of speech, press, and political expression. Book banning in any public setting is unacceptable.”

The suit in Alaska is the latest in a legal effort to turn back an ongoing, politically-organized nationwide wave of book banning. In addition to the action in Alaska, an ACLU suit is currently pending in Missouri, challenging Senate Bill 775, a school library obscenity law that opponents say forces librarians to censor their collections under the "threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines."

Meanwhile, in April, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction requiring that a host of improperly banned books be immediately returned to public library shelves in Llano County. And in August, a federal judge enjoined a Texas law that would have forced booksellers to rate books for sexual content (with the ACLU recently filing an amicus brief in support of the decision). Both cases are now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In May, PEN America and Penguin Random House joined forces with a group of authors and parents to sue school administrators in Escambia County, Fla, over the removal of allegedly inappropriate books from school libraries.

And on July 29, a federal judge in Arkansas blocked two key provisions of a recently passed Arkansas law, known as Act 372, that would have exposed librarians and booksellers to criminal liability for making allegedly inappropriate or “harmful” books accessible to minors in the state.