ArentFox Schiff Represents Penguin Random House in Federal Lawsuit Against Iowa Book Ban
The case, which was filed November 30 in the US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, seeks to enjoin and declare unconstitutional the law’s mandate requiring the removal of books from school libraries and classroom collections. The law’s penalty provision goes into effect January 1, 2024.
The Iowa law prohibits books in school libraries and classroom collections that contain a description or visual depiction of a “sex act.” This restriction applies to all grades, kindergarten through twelfth grade, without consideration of the book as a whole, only excepting religious books. The complaint alleges that by so broadly regulating the display and availability of books that are constitutionally protected as to at least a significant number of students, this standard violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is an impermissible content-based restriction, restricts access to constitutionally protected books, and is unconstitutionally vague.
The Iowa law also appears, and is being interpreted by Iowa school districts, to prohibit books in school libraries and classroom collections that “relate” to “gender identity” or “sexual orientation.” This sweeping prohibition defines gender identity and sexual orientation so broadly that the prohibition could apply to all gender identities and any depiction of a romantic relationship. The complaint alleges that this prohibition violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is an impermissible content-based restriction and is unconstitutionally vague; in practice this prohibition appears to have been intended to apply, and has been applied, to remove only books containing LGBTQ+ themes or characters or those written by authors within the LGBTQ+ community; and therefore this prohibition also violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it discriminates against LGBTQ+ viewpoints and authors.