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Texas County Considers Closing Its Libraries after Federal Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Shelves

A federal judge ordered a rural Texas county to return 12 banned books back to library shelves, and now the county is considering closing its libraries altogether.

The list of banned books included “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.

Seven local residents sued county officials for removing the books, citing their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Federal Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Llano County Library System had to reinstate the books into circulation at its three library branches.

A meeting agenda for the Commissioners Court of Llano County shows plans for a discussion to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County library system pending further guidance from the Federal Courts.” The meeting is set for Thursday.

The agenda also lists discussions “regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

Leila Green Little, one of the residents suing the county, emailed supporters to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

“We may not get another opportunity to save our library system and, more importantly, the public servants who work there.”

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According to the lawsuit, in 2021, county officials allegedly removed library board members and replaced them with new members who would review the content of all library books. Several books were removed from libraries, and access to an e-book service was revoked shortly after.

In his decision, Judge Pitman stated, “The First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination” and gave the library system 24 hours to return the books to their shelves.

In a statement to CNN, Ellen Leonida, the attorney representing the seven residents, underscored the extreme measure the county was considering.

“It appears that the defendants would rather shut down the Library System entirely — depriving thousands of Llano County residents of access to books, learning resources, and meeting space — than make the banned books available to residents who want to read them.”

There is a growing movement for the censorship of books in grade schools, universities and public libraries. According to CNN, books that tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or by authors in those communities were among the ten most challenged titles in 2021. The trend continued the following year.

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The American Library Association reported that, in the two decades since it began tracking book censorship, the number of attempts to ban books had reached an all-time high in 2022 at 1,269 total demands.

“The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021. A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.”

In a press release, Deborah Caldwelll-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, stated, “Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media.”

“Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore. The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”

congress

House Passes Election Bill in Response to Jan. 6 Insurrection

The House of Representatives voted to reform the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act Wednesday. The legislative overhaul is to prevent events like the Jan. 6 insurrection from happening again.

The bill is the first legislative step taken by congress to address the assault on the Capitol in January 2020, with the House voting 229 to 203 in its favor. However, it is unlikely that the bill will pass in the Senate. House members mostly voted along party lines, with only nine Republicans supporting the bill.

The original Electoral Count Act was implemented to set deadlines for states to certify presidential election results, standardize the procedure to send electors to the Capitol, name the vice president as the overseer of the vote count, and create a process for lawmakers to challenge election results.

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Former President Donald Trump tried to use the Electoral Count Act to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The Senate drafted its own bipartisan bill in July, sponsored by 10 GOP senators—the number needed to overcome any potential Senate filibuster. However, it is unclear if all Democrats will vote in favor of the legislation.

Both bills are similar in changing the number of lawmakers needed to object to electoral results procedurally. In the House’s bill, one-third of each chamber needs to object. In the Senate’s bill, only one-fifth need to object. Both restrictions are significantly more stringent than the original act’s, which only required one objector in each chamber.

The House bill also states that the president of the Senate, traditionally held by the vice president of the United States, will be “ministerial.”

“Except with respect to the procedures described in this section, the presiding officer shall not have any power to determine or otherwise resolve disputes concerning the proper list of electors for a State, the validity of electors for a State, or the votes of electors of a State.”

The bill also states that the vice president “shall not order any delay in counting or preside over any period of delay in counting electoral votes.” The Senate bill similarly states that the vice president “shall have no power to solely determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes over the proper list of electors, the validity of electors, or the votes of electors.”

The Senate bill included provisions related to presidential transition, while the House bill did not. The House bill also addresses “when states could declare a ‘failed election’ and substitute electors approved by voters.”

Democrats believe several issues will be on the ballot for voters in November. Protecting the transition of presidential power and abortion rights may rally more voters to support their party. It is becoming easier for Democrats to associate the GOP with the violent events of Jan. 6 in public spaces, given their dissatisfaction with the bill and continued support for the last administration. The GOP is focusing more on inflation and economic policy as driving motivators to bring voters to the poll.

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By and large, Republicans still do not support election reform legislation because many party members still follow Trump’s election narrative. After the insurrection, Republicans backed his election lies and opposed the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee and bipartisan commission proposal.

Prominent Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney, rejected their party’s support of Trump. Cheney eventually became vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee. Republicans were especially reluctant to support the bill because she co-sponsored it.

When asked about Republican lack of support for the bill, Representative Liz Cheney told reporters about the importance of this legislation.

“Protecting future elections is something that we ought to all be able to agree upon, regardless of party.”

 

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Billie Eilish And Others Encourage Young Voters To Make Their Voices Heard At 2020 DNC

Generation Z has become one of the most politically engaged and outspoken groups of voters in America within the past four years. Thanks to advancements in technology and social media, the younger generation is not only able to better communicate with each other on all political issues currently occurring in the US, but also encourage one another to not remain silent on injustices just because older generations assume they hold the power. 

Billie Eilish has been a major leader for the generation. At just 18-years-old Eilish has already won 5 Grammys and truly made a name for herself in the industry. She recently performed at this year’s virtual Democratic National Convention where she then followed the performance by encouraging her fans to vote in the November election, and vote Trump out of office. 

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“You don’t need me to tell you things are a mess, Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about. We need leaders who will solve problems like climate change and Covid, not deny them.”

Eilish then went on and stated that America needs a leader who is able to fight against the systems of racism and inequality that run the country. Her tone was serious and pointed to let her fans know that so much is at stake this November. “Silence is not an option, we all have to vote like our lives and the world depends on it – because they do.” 

Climate change was at the heart of many speakers’ speeches, as before the Covid-19 pandemic, the environment was one of the biggest issues surrounding the election. Donald Trump has made it very clear that he’s not a firm believer in climate change in general, and even went as far as to remove all information relating to climate change from the White House website. 

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Another major political issue that was brought up by generation Z political activist Emma González is gun control. González is a survivor of the Parkland School shooting and has been famously fighting for stricter gun control laws in America ever since. She spoke of the many classmates she lost that tragic day in 2018 and how it really could’ve been anyone’s son, daughter, nephew, brother, etc. because it has been so many other times in America. 

“I can’t do this anymore, I can’t sit by and watch the news treat these shootings like acts of God, gun violence isn’t just going to stop until there’s a force fighting harder against it. We’re going to make this change.”

Dominican-American singer Prince Royce also performed and spoke at the DNC this week. He sang a Spanish cover of “Stand By Me” and then addressed Generation Z directly, especially Latinx individuals, encouraging them especially to vote in November. 

The rest of the third night of the DNC featured a performance of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Jennifer Hudson and speeches from former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, and former President Barack Obama. All speeches centered around the same central message; vote Trump out, but most importantly, just go vote.