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
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
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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