Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Edward De Grazia Feb. 5, 1927 - April 11, 2013 Lawyer Who Fought Censorship

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Edward De Grazia Feb. 5, 1927 - April 11, 2013 Lawyer Who Fought Censorship

Article excerpt

Edward de Grazia, a lawyer and teacher who in the 1950s and '60s broadened the scope of what Americans would be allowed to read by helping to defeat government bans on sexually explicit books, died April 11 in Potomac, Md. He was 86.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease, his son, David, said.

A fierce civil libertarian who taught for 30 years at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, Mr. de Grazia defined his life's work as defending "morally defiant artists" against "reactionary politicians and judges."

In 1955, the Postal Service used an 1873 law to seize a rare volume of "Lysistrata," a play written 2,400 years before by Aristophanes in which Greek women withhold sex to force Spartan and Athenian warriors to abandon war. Arthur Summerfield, the postmaster general, condemned the play as "obscene, lewd and lascivious" and moved to destroy the book.

Mr. de Grazia responded that what was obscene to Summerfield was "pure as mountain snow to another," and he ridiculed the Postal Service for having banned books such as Voltaire's "Candide" and Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer." The Postal Service gave up, releasing the "Lysistrata" volume before the case could go to trial.

In 1964, Mr. de Grazia won a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned rulings in lower courts that a 1961 edition of Henry Miller's sexually explicit novel, "Tropic of Cancer," published by Grove Press in New York City, was obscene. The novel had been published in Paris in 1934 and banned by many states and cities in the United States.

Representing Grove and its provocative publisher, Barney Rosset, Mr. de Grazia shepherded the appeal to the Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the court held that publication of the book should be allowed even if some found it obscene. The decision reversed a 1957 ruling that obscenity was not protected speech. …

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