educational

Constitutional Obscenity?

Stephen Yagielowicz
In a few short hours, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights will hold a hearing in Washington, DC on "Obscenity Prosecution and the Constitution" – a hearing which will only hear one side of the debate...

As previously reported by XBiz, United States Senator Sam Brownback, a prominent politician involved with the anti-adult entertainment movement, has scheduled the congressional hearing to examine the repercussions of the recently dismissed federal obscenity charges leveled at Extreme Associates and its owners; and to find a way to overcome this unexpected, precedent-setting decision, that some observers see as a death-knell for federal obscenity prosecutions.

The controversy surrounding the Extreme Associates case stems from a decision by U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster to dismiss the charges of distribution of obscene materials that had been brought against Extreme Associates, and its owners, Rob Black and his wife Janet Romano; stating that laws inhibiting a person's rights to possess obscene material in their own home violate constitutional rights to privacy and liberty.

"We find that the federal obscenity statutes burden an individual's fundamental right to possess, read, observe and think about what he chooses in the privacy of his own home by completely banning the distribution of obscene materials," Lancaster wrote in his 45-page opinion – an opinion which has led to today's hearings.

The judge's decision, which was widely heralded as a victory for free speech rights, was seen by Senators Brownback and Orrin Hatch as "a Frankenstein's monster of judicial activism" – a monster the Senators hope to tame.

The witness list for this hearing has been described as "unfriendly" to our industry, and includes Robert Destro, J.D., Professor of Law for the Catholic University of America, at the Columbus School of Law, in Washington, DC, William Wagner, J.D., Associate Professor of Law at The Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, and Frederick Schauer, J.D., a Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Once again, the adult entertainment industry - the clear target of the hearing - was neither invited nor notified of the hearing, and attempts to provide witnesses friendly to the adult industry were rebuffed by subcommittee officials," said Michelle Freridge of the adult industry trade association Free Speech Coalition.

"Free Speech Coalition will see to it that objective and professional written testimony from prominent, knowledgeable and seasoned First Amendment attorneys is included in the subcommittee's record, in order that the U.S. Senate be made aware of all sides of this very important issue," added Freridge.

Scheduled to be held in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, the hearing will begin at 3:00 p.m. today rather than the previously scheduled time of 2:30 p.m., and all of you who are able to attend are encouraged to do so. For those of you unable to attend the hearing, you can tune into the live webcast to hear the testimony first hand.

The outcome of this hearing, and any subsequent actions, could have a profound impact on our industry, and I encourage all of you to listen in and hear the discussion "first hand" – it's your business, take steps to protect it.

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