On November 4, 2009, Prison Legal News (PLN) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Texas under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988 against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. PLN, represented by private and public interest counsel, asked for punitive and ...
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On November 4, 2009, Prison Legal News (PLN) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Texas under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988 against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. PLN, represented by private and public interest counsel, asked for punitive and compensatory damages and injunctive relief, claiming that PLN's right to free speech and due process had been violated.
Specifically the plaintiff claimed that a prisoner at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Hilltop Unit ordered a copy of Women Behind Bars from PLN and once it arrived to Hilltop, informed the prisoner she could not receive the book due to a content violation. PLN did not receive notification of this denial. PLN sent multiple copies of Women Behind Bars and other books critical of the prison system and the books were all denied entry. PLN claimed that their First Amendment rights to free speech and expression had been violated, their liberty interest in communicating with incarcerated individuals had been denied, and that there was no legitimate penological interest for doing so. Furthermore, PLN claimed that they had been denied due process of law because PLN had not been given notice when their publications were not allowed into the prison.
On January 4, 2011, the District Court (Judge Janis Graham Jack) granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court held that First Amendment rights do not apply to readers and publishers alone, but also to book distributors, as long as the recipient of the book is willing. However, the court found that stopping these books from coming into prisons was a legitimate government interest for the TDCJ. The court noted that since this was not a facial challenge of book banning practices in Texas prisons, but was an as applied challenge, it was much harder to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in this case as the judgment of prison officials is given broad deference.
The plaintiffs then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the summary judgment ruling was affirmed on June 1, 2012 after a de novo review.Deeva Shah - 10/01/2014