Judge launches lawsuit that tried to rule obscene children’s books | National

By BEN FINLEY – Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to declare two books obscene for children and restrict their distribution to minors, including by booksellers and libraries.

The books in question were “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas.

Both books describe or illustrate the sexual acts that gave rise to the trial. In a court petition, Tommy Altman, a Virginia Beach tattoo shop owner and former Republican candidate for Congress, said the performances were inappropriate for children under Virginia’s obscenity law. He asked the court to issue a restraining order against distributing, selling or lending the books to minors.

The lawsuit was filed in April and dismissed before it could go to trial.

Circuit Court Judge Pamela S. Baskervill quashed the suit on jurisdictional grounds, citing state law as well as principles of the US Constitution.

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For example, Baskervill wrote that Virginia law does not give him specific authority to determine whether books are obscene to minors.

The judge also wrote that restricting the distribution of the books would allow “prior restraint” of speech and violate the First Amendment. The judge also raised concerns about prosecuting someone who did not know they were selling or lending books deemed obscene.

The judge’s order comes at a time when book protests and bans have risen across the United States to levels not seen in decades. And Virginia has been at the forefront of those disputes, with public school curricula and books serving as a major prong in Republican Glenn Youngkin’s successful run for governor last year.

Many targeted books in schools and libraries have focused on sexuality, gender identity, or race. And Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” served as a particular flashpoint in the debate that continues to unfold across the country. The Virginia Beach School Board removed the book from school libraries earlier this year.

Tim Anderson, Altman’s attorney, said the trial in Virginia Beach was not focused on the subject matter of the two books.

“There was never any talk of trying to ban gay literature or trans literature,” Anderson said. “It was just to say that these have really explicit sexual content and it’s not appropriate for children.”

Anderson said the intent of the suit was to change Virginia law, which Anderson said is “one size fits all” when defining what is obscene for children and adults. Atlman wanted an “exclusion” that specifically determines what is obscene for minors.

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