Athens Bookstore Files First Amendment Rights Lawsuit

Avid Bookshop in Athens has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Keybo Taylor of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department and Benjamin Hayes of the Gwinnett County Jail after shipments of books to an inmate were rejected.

The lawsuit, filed on March 15, targets the jail’s mail policy which states that print publications such as newspapers, magazines and books are accepted if they come directly from publishers or authorized retailers.

The store says the authorized retailer distinction gives the jail full control of who can ship books to inmates without providing steps to meet this designation.

“The Jail’s authorized retailer policy gives the Jail complete discretion to decide who can mail books to jail residents,” according to a statement made by the store. “This is because the policy has no criteria for designating who is an ‘authorized retailer,’ and no process for becoming an ‘authorized retailer.’

Avid Bookshop’s Operations Manager Louis Carrea believes small businesses like Avid are experiencing unfair treatment, and that policies must be put in place for sellers to get authorized status.

“The decision to exclude independent bookstores from the right to send books to prisons while permitting big box retailers and Amazon is unfair and baseless. Independent bookstores must, at the very least, be given a transparent set of policies and allowed due process to become authorized vendors,” Carrea said in the store’s statement.

While the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office declined to speak with Grady Newsource, they did provide a statement highlighting that the policies are related to security concerns.

“The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office policy maintains the safety and security of our staff and inmates. It does not limit the content or subject matter of the publication, but only the origin of the shipment. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office will not comment further on pending litigation,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

But to Correa, these rules represent a threat to the First Amendment.

“What these policies amount to is unmitigated government censorship,” he added in the store’s statement.

A sentiment shared by Moira Marqui, senior manager for PEN America’s Freewrite Project.

“People need to pay attention to this case because it is about to demonstrate blatant unconstitutionality in denying independent bookshops from sending books,” she said.

Lucy Bertsch and David Eberly are journalism students in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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