Eckes examines U.S. Supreme Court’s stance on book banning in The Conversation

UW–Madison’s Suzanne Eckes breaks down the Supreme Court’s stance on book banning in her recent op-ed in The Conversation.


Eckes is the Susan S. Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy, and Practice in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Much of her research focuses on how civil rights laws impact education policies in K-12 public schools.

According to Eckes, book bans have been appearing in courts across the country as schools and libraries increasingly attempt to remove books that discuss subjects such as race and LGBTQ+ people. Local courts, she says, have been basing decisions on a 1982 Supreme Court ruling declaring that “school personnel have a lot of discretion related to the content of their libraries, but this ‘discretion may not be exercised in a narrowly partisan or political manner.’” In this Long Island, New York case, a student filed a lawsuit against their district for removing books from the school library. The school board won with the U.S. District Court, but the decision was later overturned by the appeals court. Supreme Court justices at the time were divided, Eckes says, with five affirmations in favor of the students and four dissents.

“Though there was not a clear majority opinion,” Eckes writes, “the case suggests that school boards have broad discretion over library books but do not have unlimited authority to remove books from library shelves.”

Eckes continues: “As a result, school personnel are likely limited in their power to restrict books’ availability simply because they or other officials disagree with the books’ content.”

Until any current cases reach the Supreme Court, lower courts will be influenced by the 1982 precedent, Eckes concludes.

Read the full op-ed in The Conversation.

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