Pornography and the Justices: The Supreme Court and the Intractable Obscenity Problem

Pornography and the Justices: The Supreme Court and the Intractable Obscenity Problem

Pornography and the Justices: The Supreme Court and the Intractable Obscenity Problem

Pornography and the Justices: The Supreme Court and the Intractable Obscenity Problem

Synopsis

Richard F. Hixson examines the various ways the United States Supreme Court - the individual justices as well as the collective body - has dealt over time with the intractable problem of obscenity. Hixson proceeds chronologically through eleven chapters, with each chapter featuring a specific aspect of the constitutional problem and the approach or solution espoused by a particular justice. Through his case-by-case analysis of the many Supreme Court obscenity rulings, Hixson relates each decision to the temper of the times. Omnipresent in this discussion, of course, is the United States Constitution, especially the First Amendment upon which the Court bases its decisions. What sets Pornography and the Justices apart from other studies of pornography is its unique focus and its fresh conclusion, which is a composite of views garnered from the Supreme Court justices. As long as the government does not discriminate against specific points of view and as long as there is ample protection of minors and nonconsenting adults, Hixson argues that the private collection of pornography is up to the individual. Hixson contends that the freedom to purchase obscene pornographic matter should be restricted only by time, place, and manner considerations. If a person wants pornography, he or she should be able to get it, albeit perhaps from a higher shelf, in a secluded room, or at a theater clearly marked for adults. Hixson sees no need to legislate personal morals beyond controlling public access.

Excerpt

In the end, Justice John Marshall Harlan was probably right when he concluded, in a letter to a friend just months before his death in 1971, that the "obscenity problem [is] almost intractable, and that its ultimate solution must be found in a renaissance of societal values." But nothing ever comes to an end at the U.S. Supreme Court, least of all societal values that touch upon obscenity and pornography. Such controversial issues seem never to be resolved. They take on a life of their own, as this book attempts to show in its chronological treatment of the many obscenity cases that have reached the Court and in the analyses of the justices' views.

Issues involving the constitutional protection of obscene material have long been the source of controversy within the judicial system, as well as within public discourse in general. The traditional hierarchy of protected free speech, and of the press, as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, ranks political and social expression highest, followed by personal and aesthetic expression, then moral and religious expression -- "pure speech," in other words. Obscenity's position on the chart continues to be debated, but it is generally said to rank somewhere near the bottom with "fighting words" speech, libelous speech, and commercial . . .

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