One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared'. -- Vice President Dan Quayle
From T.S. Davies, [email protected]
Some recent cases (taken from a post I made which was abstracted in the EFF's Computers and Academic Freedom archive):
1943-5 Various crime magazine distributors are prosecuted for distributing various crime magazines under New York obscenity law. (Law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in _Winters_ v. _New York_.)
1946 Edmund Wilson's _Memoirs of Hecate County_ is seized by John Sumner (the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice) under State obscenity laws. (Upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in (I believe) _Doubleday_ v. _New York_.) The book was not republished in the United States until the 1960's, by a subsidiary of Farrar, Straus, and Young.
1955 Samuel Roth imprisoned on charges of sending obscenity through the mails (including advertisements and the third issue of _American Aphrodite_, a hardbound magazine which contained Aubrey Beardsley's "Venus and Tannhauser" -- upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in _Roth_ v. _United States_).
1958 The University of Chicago suppresses the Winter 1958, issue of the _Chicago Review_, which contains material by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. This material was published in the first issue of _Big Table_ in March, 1959, (by the editors who resigned from the _Chicago Review_), and is seized by the United States Post Office, and ruled obscene by the Post Office's hearing examiner. It is set free by Judge Julius Hoffmann under _Roth_ v. _United States_.
1961 Henry Miller's _Tropic of Cancer_ is published by Grove Press and is declared obscene in various parts of the country. The book is finally freed by the U.S. Supreme Court in _Grove Press_ v. _Gerstein_ (decided in conjunction with _Jacobellis_ v. _Ohio_, which involved a film by Louis Malle called _The Lovers_.)
196? _Fanny Hill_ is found obscene by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966, in _Memoirs of a Lady of Pleasure_ v. _Massachusetts_ [?].
1963 Proceedings against William S. Burroughs' _Naked Lunch_ are begun in Massachusetts on the grounds that it may be obscene. (Won in appeal in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1966.)
1966 Ralph Ginzburg's conviction on charges of distributing obscenity through the mails is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in _Ginzburg_ v. _United States_.
1973 In _Miller_ v. _California_, the Supreme Court upholds the conviction of a distributor of illustrated books and films which were held to violate California obscenity law, and partially redefines the conditions under which an item can be found to be obscene.
Other prosecutions and decisions since then mostly deal with films, photographic images, and artistic performances; including the various attempts to pass anti-pornography legislation; the arrest of Dennis Barrie, the director of the Cincinnati, Ohio, Contemporary Arts Center in 1990 for the presentation of Robert Mapplethorpe's "homoerotic" photographs; and the actions of the U.S. Congress to establish limits on NEA grantees.
In _Redrup_ v. _New York_, the U.S. Supreme Court laid out a decision which implied "that consenting adults in the United States ought to be constitutionally entitled to read and acquire any publication that they wished -- including concededly obscene or pornographic ones -- without governmental interference." In _Stanley_ v. _Georgia_, the Court "held that adults had a constitutional right to possess, read, or watch concededly obscene books and films in the privacy of their homes."
The Burger Court chose to limit the interpretation of this decision to the facts, however, and deny that the decision "implied that people had a constitutional right to exhibit or sell such materials outside the home, or that anyone had a constitutional right to bring them to his home, for example, from abroad." In July, 1990, "the Rehnquist Court further narrowed the principle by holding that the right of Americans to read and watch anything they wished in the privacy of their homes did not include 'child pornography.'" [In _Osborne_ v. _Ohio_.]
So, assuming someone published a book that the Supreme Court could define as obscene or as "child pornography", it could still be banned. It's unlikely (though hardly impossible) to imagine a situation where a book or other literary work would be banned for anything other than obscenity, under the Supreme Court's current interpretation of the First Amendment; but there is nothing to stop a publisher from rejecting or being forced to recall a work under pressure from customers (or potential customers). One recent case is Viking's decision not to publish Bret Easton Ellis' _American Psycho_ under pressure from groups offended by the actions of the book's main character. (_American Psycho_ was later picked up by Vintage and published as a Vintage Contemporary in 1991.)
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