On August 18, Federal Judge Alan D. Albright heard the first round of oral arguments in Austin, Tex., on a motion to block HB 900, Texas’s controversial new book rating law. But with Texas attorneys filing a motion to dismiss the case just days earlier, on August 16, Albright said he would need more time before ruling on either motion. The judge has set a second hearing for August 28, adding that he would rule before the law is set to take effect on September 1…

In his questions, Albright pointed out that the law as currently written does appear vague and unclear. He focused on the plaintiffs’ inability to “get relief” from the school districts should books be rated incorrectly. In addition, he noted that the law must address the future implications of a law, in this case, the potential for financial injury.

Albright also offered several implied criticisms of the law in the course of seeking clarification, asking whether or not John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men would be deemed obscene because it contains a rape, and subsequently E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain and the Bible, both of which have explicit sexual references. He also asked after the fate of books depicting paintings by Caravaggio (the judge’s “favorite painter,” he said) and Michelangelo. Albright acknowledged that there were certainly works that could easily be deemed “sexually relevant,” but the part of the law that allowed books to be objected to if they were “patently offensive” and violated community standards, he implied, was problematic.