James Valley Library System joining lawsuit against ND book ban bills

Library system director says two bills are violations of the First and 14th amendments.

Rector with Books.jpg
James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector holds books that could be removed from the library if two book ban bills pass during the legislative session.
Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN — The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors unanimously approved on Wednesday, March 17, joining a class action lawsuit against the book ban bills in the North Dakota Legislature.

The agreement is for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP to represent North Dakota librarians and board trustees at no cost, said Joe Rector, library system director. He said an attorney, who is originally from Bismarck and now in Los Angeles, specializes in First Amendment cases.

If House Bill 1205 and Senate Bill 2360 are not killed at the committee level, the firm will represent the librarians and board of trustees.

“If the bills become law, they will sue the state,” Rector said. “Any settlement gained through the suit would go to the firm to help recoup some of their costs.”

He said representation involves public relations communication such as contacting legislators and the governor to let them know there will be a class-action lawsuit against the state if the bills are passed.


He said HB 1205 and SB 2360 are banning items that are currently legal in all 50 states.

“Under the First Amendment, parents are able to make choices, booksellers are able to sell, people are able, buy, review, consider,” he said.

Rector said the bills are violations of the First and 14th amendments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a unanimous “do pass” recommendation to HB 1205 on Tuesday, March 14. The bill goes to the Senate for a vote which was not scheduled as of Friday morning.

The House passed a version of the bill with a 65-28 vote in February, but the bill was overhauled with amendments by a Senate panel that makes it specific to minors and children’s collections in public libraries.

If passed, HB 1205 defines “explicit sexual material” as “any material which, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community in North Dakota as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors,” The Bismarck Tribune reported Tuesday.

The bill would also mandate public libraries to develop a policy and process for reviewing library collections including the removal or relocating of sexual material, how to respond to a request to remove the materials and reviewing the library collection to ensure it does not contain explicit sexual material by Jan. 1, 2024.

Rector said HB 1205 being amended to apply only to children’s materials is huge but bill proponents insist that many libraries in the state have children’s materials that they are trying to ban. He said the James River Valley Library System does not have materials of that category.


He said HB 1205 allows individuals from outside of the library system’s service area to request the removal of books or other materials.

He said reviewing the library’s children’s materials will take many people and hours to go through.

“Every staff member could sit here and read books for eight hours a day and it would still take us a couple months,” he said.

State Librarian Mary Soucie said that the North Dakota State Library would need 71 temporary staff to review its fiction collection and 35 temporary staff to review e-books if HB 1205 passes, the Tribune reported.

The House Judiciary Committee heard SB 2360 on Tuesday, March 14. The Senate passed the bill 38-9 in February.

Sen. Keith Boehm, R-Mandan, presented amendments to the bill.

SB 2360 criminalizes a person who willfully displays at newsstands or any other business establishment frequented by minors or where minors are or may be invited any material that either contains explicit sexual material that is harmful to minors.

Rector said minors frequent the libraries in Jamestown and can see any items on the shelves. He said the library system would violate the law even though they aren’t directly promoting the material to people.


Boehm’s amendments also include exempting from criminal liability a “public library for limited access for educational purposes carried on at such an institution by adults only,” and eliminating “sex-based classifications” from the proposed list of “explicit sexual material,” which includes written and visual depictions of various sex acts, nudity and partial nudity, the Tribune reported.

The Tribune reported House Judiciary Committee Chair Lary Klemin, R-Bismarck, did not expect the panel to immediately act on the bill Tuesday.

Rector said the library system staff is “extremely careful” about what material is in the libraries.

“We try to be in the middle of the road, try to think of what the people in Stutsman County believe,” he said. “What are their basic values? (We are) not trying to trigger people, not trying to put things under people’s nose. We try to put the information at an age-appropriate level according to what people in Stutsman County on average think. That doesn’t mean we are always correct because we aren’t taking a poll.”

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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