A federal judge determined a law banning hundreds of books, from "The Color Purple" to "1984," from classrooms and libraries did not pass constitutional muster.
Judge dumps ‘wildly overbroad’ Iowa LGBTQ book ban
DES MOINES, Iowa (CN)—A federal judge in Des Moines halted enforcement of a ban on books referencing LGBTQ people or depicting sex acts in public schools Dec. 29, but left intact a provision that requires school districts to inform parents if their child requests gender-identity accommodations like a change in pronouns.
“The law is incredibly broad and has resulted in the removal of hundreds of books from school libraries, including, among others, nonfiction history books, classic works of fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary novels, books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement exams, and even books designed to help students avoid being victimized by sexual assault,” US District Judge Stephen Locher wrote in his order. “The court has been unable to locate a single case upholding the constitutionality of a school library restriction even remotely similar.”
He also noted that “on its face, the law forbids any programs, promotion, or instruction recognizing that anyone is male or female or in a relationship of any sort (gay or straight). The statute is therefore content-neutral but so wildly overbroad that every school district and elementary school teacher in the state has likely been violating it since the day the school year started.”
The legislation, Senate File 496, was signed into law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds this past May. Among other things, it requires public school districts to ban books and materials containing descriptions or depictions of “sex acts” from all Iowa school libraries except for certain religious texts, such as the Bible, and forbids mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the sixth grade, in or outside of the classroom.
It also requires teachers, counselors, and other school staff to report to parents if a student asks to be referred to by names or pronouns that differ from those they are registered under.
The plaintiffs in the Lambda Legal/ACLU-Iowa lawsuit filed in federal court Nov. 28 include eight public school students ages nine to 17 who identify as LGBTQ+ and their parents. They claim Iowa’s new law violates the students’ rights of free speech and expression under the First Amendment and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
Separately, Penguin Random House, a parent, teachers and school librarians sued Iowa state education officials in federal court in Des Moines on Nov. 30, claiming the statute violates the plaintiffs’ First and 14th Amendment rights. The complaint names as defendants state education officials and two Iowa school districts.
Penguin was joined in its complaint by authors Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo and Jodi Picoult, whose books have been targeted for removal or removed from Iowa school libraries and classroom collections as a result of Senate File 496.
Penguin Random House, which calls itself the world’s largest trade publisher with more than 300 independent publishing imprints globally, claims books it published have been targeted for removal by Iowa school districts. Among them: “Beloved” by Toni Morrison; “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo; “Ulysses” by James Joyce; “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner; “Push: A Novel” by Sapphire; and “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.
Locher found that while all plaintiffs had standing to challenge the book restrictions, none could challenge the disclosure requirement, which the Legislature titled “Parental rights in education.”
“All GLBT youth student plaintiffs report that they are already 'out' to their parents, families, and/or schools, and thus none of them are directly affected by this feature of the law,” Locher, a Joe Biden appointee, wrote.
“Instead, at most, they simply allege that the parental notification requirement contributes to the overall perception that the law targets the LGBTQ+ student community. This is not the type of concrete injury that confers standing.”
Standing was also an issue for the plaintiffs’ challenge of a rule restricting “programs, promotion, and instruction” relating to gender identity or sexual orientation for grades six and under. Only one of the students, a fourth grader, could be deprived of any such programs by the law, Locher wrote. Even so, he noted, the law requires the fourth grader to engage in self-censorship and deprives her of opportunities to discuss her transgender identity without the fear of discipline, and her challenge was therefore likely to succeed.
With standing covered, Locher moved on to address the law’s constitutional bona fides. He found that the law was likely to fall afoul of two 1982 cases: Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico and Pratt v. Independent School District No. 831, from the US Supreme Court and 8th Circuit, respectively. In Pico, Locher wrote, a fractured Supreme Court was largely able to agree that school boards’ decisions to remove books can, in some cases, violate the Constitution but have authority to remove “vulgar” books.
Pratt, Locher continued, provided additional guidance. “Pratt held that ‘to avoid a finding that it acted unconstitutionally, the board must establish that a substantial and reasonable government interest exists for interfering with the students’ right to receive information,’” Locher quoted. “’At the very least, the First Amendment precludes local authorities from imposing a “pall of orthodoxy” on classroom instruction which implicates the state in the propagation of a particular religious or ideological viewpoint.’”
Senate File 496, Locher wrote, threatened just such a “pall of orthodoxy.” “The problem here… is that Senate File 496 makes no attempt to target [vulgar] books in any reasonable way,” he wrote. “instead, it requires the wholesale removal of every book containing a description or visual depiction of a ‘sex act,’ regardless of context. The underlying message is that there is no redeeming value to any such book even if it is a work of history, self-help guide, award-winning novel, or other piece of serious literature.”
Senior attorney Nathan Maxwell of LGBT rights organization Lambda Legal celebrated the decision. “We are glad our clients, Iowa families, and students will be able to continue the school year free from the harms caused by these parts of this unconstitutional law,” Maxwell said in a statement. “This decision sends a strong message to the state that efforts to ban books based on LGBTQ+ content, or target speech that sends a message of inclusion to Iowa LGBTQ+ students cannot stand.”
“Instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation has no place in kindergarten through sixth grade class-rooms,” Reynolds said in a statement. “There should be no question that books containing sexually explicit content — as clearly defined in Iowa law — do not belong in a school library for children. The fact that we’re even arguing these issues is ridiculous. The real debate should be about why society is so intent on over-sexualizing our young children. It’s wrong, and I will continue to do my part to protect their innocence.”
ACLU of Iowa executive director Mark Stringer called Reynolds’ statement inaccurate. “This lawsuit has nothing to do with access to obscene or pornographic material,” Stringer wrote on Facebook. “To the contrary, it is about protecting students to have a safe and affirming school environment and accurate learning materials. Moreover, Iowa law already bans obscene material from youth.”
Fire Dept. minimizes damage in Eden Prairie blaze
EDEN PRAIRIE, MN.—The structure fire the Eden Prairie Fire Department responded to early Friday, June 2, on the 10000 block of Lee Drive destroyed two adjacent single-family homes.
Two adults and two children escaped from the home where the fire originated and were transported to Henne- pin Healthcare for non-life-threatening injuries. Three of the victims were treated and released, and one adult continues to be treated for burns. One cat survived, one cat died, and a dog remains unaccounted for.
Two adults escaped the second home without injuries, and two cats and a dog survived.
There were multiple reports of two or more explosions associated with the fire. While it is still early in the investigation, the Fire Department has determined an active fire caused prescribed medical-grade oxygen tanks to explode.
The investigation into the fire's origin which caused the explosions continues.
New MN law expands Immigration protections for at-risk youth
MINNEAPOLIS (PNS)—Minnesota has joined several states in raising the age limit for young immigrants who have escaped trauma to receive legal protections in the United States.
This week, Gov, Tim Walz signed a bill increasing the age limit from 18 to 21 to seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, aligning Minnesota law with federal statute. The process allows young people who left their home coun- try unaccompanied, fleeing an abusive situation, to secure judicial guardianship at the state level. They then apply for the federal SIJ status, with a path toward citizenship.
State Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, led the efforts through the House.
"It confronts this issue on a regular basis with young people who realize that their immigration is an issue later in their teens and then, are up against that deadline of their 18th birthday," she said.
When the state age cutoff is below the federal threshold, the teen faces deportation. Feist, who also is an immi- gration attorney, said that puts them back into a traumatic situation. She added that this affects roughly 70 people a year in the state. The bill had broad bipartisan support, although the federal component is under scrutiny over case backlogs.
Despite those issues, Minnesota advocates have said relief at the state level still is important. Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said not only is there more stability for these youth, it benefits their communities as well.
"We're talking about folks who have come here as young people," she said, "many of whom end up finishing high school getting their GED in the United States—and then are such an important part of the labor force."
She said that's especially helpful for rural Minnesota, where there are challenges in finding skilled labor. Immigration experts who track these policies say nearly a dozen other states have taken similar action.
Opening statements in appeal to DACA
MINNEAPOLIS (PNS)—The fate of more than 600,000 so-called "dreamers" hangs in the balance as opening statements are heard today in a case that could make or break the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The Justice Department is appealing a decision last summer that declared DACA illegal. Now the three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit in New Orleans will decide whether to uphold or reject that summary judgment or order a full trial.
Attorney Nina Perales. vice president for litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said the state of Texas, which sued to block DACA, should not have standing to sue because it cannot prove the state has been harmed.
"Texas has not been able to point to any employers that Texas says hired a DACA recipient instead of a U.S. citizen," she said. "Texas was never able to identify a dollar of state money that went to a DACA recipient."
The state of Texas has argued that DACA takes jobs away from legal U.S. residents, and that it costs the state money in the form of social services
Gaby Pacheco, an advocate with TheDream.US, said the average age of arrival for DACA participants is seven, and most have lived in the United States for more than 20 years.
"Ninety-nine percent of them have graduated from high school," she said. "More than 90 percent of them are recipients that are working including more than 340,000 workers deemed essential, including nurses, educators and those who kept food on our tables during the pandemic."
Current DACA participants now are allowed to stay and renew their work permits, but no new applications are being processed. Congress has been unable to forge a consensus on immigration reform or a path to citizenship for dreamers. Perales noted that the Biden administration is expected to release a new regulation related to DACA, possibly in August.