On September 12, 2023 the Senate Judiciary Committee held “Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature,” to discuss the constitutional right to knowledge through literature. Charman Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the debate with extensive history of book banning in the United States. He asserts that banning books does not come from the effort to protect children, but instead denies them the opportunity to learn about difficult subject matter.

Illinois Secretary of State, Alexi Giannoulias, advocated for the expansion of legislation to outlaw book bans, protecting and supporting libraries and librarians. His argument centered around the promotion of a healthy democracy through freedom of ideas and knowledge and censorship as an authoritarian tendency. He asked the Judiciary Committee to examine Illinois as an example of legislation protecting access to books in schools as the direction they should take on this issue.

Senator Graham (R-SC) opposed federal involvement in the disbursement of books into schools. He favors states, districts, and school boards to keep the best interest of their children and families in issues of literary censorship. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) also spoke, fiercely in favor of book bans and utilized explicit passages from commonly banned books to garner support for these bans. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) calmed the debate through acknowledgement of the intersection between partisan ideas. He reiterated Senator Graham’s push for this issue to be moved away from the federal level and oversight given to those directly impacted by censorship and reminds the forum that there is no belief that children should have access to inappropriate materials.

Other raised concerns included the monetary, ideological, and physical threat to libraries on one side, and the removal of parents from their child’s education from the other side. The overall argument of the minority party focuses on parental rights and the limitation of books in school and libraries that may not be agreeable to every parent. The majority Senators established literary censorship as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of ideas. They cited the disproportionate banning of books by Black authors, featuring LGBTQ+ stories, and other representation of historically oppressed groups, as a continued attack on these communities.

By Pasha Ceniceros, Policy Intern