After a federal judge blocked key parts of SF 496, Iowa’s anti-LGBTQ book banning law, last December, five more publishers—including all four remaining Big Five publishers—have now joined Penguin Random House on the joint lawsuit against the state as plaintiffs, to help defend against the state’s bid to lift the block on appeal.

In a release this week, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Sourcebooks announced that they have joined the initial plaintiffs, which included PRH, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), four renowned authors (Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo, and Jodi Picoult), and a group of teachers and students.

“We as publishers are uniting in our unwavering commitment to stand with educators, librarians, students, authors, and readers against the unconstitutional censorship measures being imposed by the state of Iowa," the publishers said in a joint statement. "Now, more than ever, we must stand firmly with our authors and readers to defend the fundamental right to read and the freedom of expression.”

Among its provisions, SF 496, which was signed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in May 2023, sought to ban books with depictions of sex from school libraries and prohibit instruction and materials involving “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” for students through sixth grade. But in a 49-page December 29 opinion and order, judge Stephen Locher preliminarily enjoined two key provisions of the law, finding its “sweeping restrictions” were “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny.”

In a rebuke to Iowa lawmakers, Locher said that he was “unable to locate a single case upholding the constitutionality of a school library restriction even remotely similar to Senate File 496” and said state lawmakers had sought to impose “a puritanical ‘pall of orthodoxy’ over school libraries.”

Furthermore, Locher suggested that the law was a solution in search of a problem. The state presented “no evidence that student access to books depicting sex acts was creating any significant problems in the school setting,” much less to the degree that would justify “across-the-board removal.” At most, Locher concluded, the state “presented evidence that some parents found the content of a small handful of books to be objectionable.”

Locher also found the law to be unconstitutionally vague. While opponents of SF 496 have often described the law as a “don’t say gay” or “don’t say trans” bill, Locher said that the law, based on the plain language of the statute, was in fact a “don’t say anything” bill, and thus void for vagueness.

The state, meanwhile, has appealed the ruling to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, and in their March 11 appeal filing, state attorneys argued that Locher erred in enjoining the law on several technical grounds. The plaintiffs filed their response brief on April 11, urging the appeals court to uphold the block.

In first announcing the appeal in January, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird defended the law. “Iowa’s law is clear; sexually explicit books and materials have no place in our elementary school classrooms or libraries,” Bird said in a statement. “With this appeal, we will continue the fight to protect Iowa families and to uphold Iowa’s law in Court.”

At press time, oral arguments have not yet been set.