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Butler v. Michigan

U.S.
Feb 25, 1957
352 U.S. 380 (1957)

Summary

holding that the First Amendment will not permit restrictions that interfere with the rights of adults to obtain constitutionally protected speech and effectively "reduce the adult population . . . to reading only what is fit for children."

Summary of this case from Southeast Booksellers Association v. McMaster

Opinion

APPEAL FROM THE RECORDER'S COURT OF THE CITY OF DETROIT, MICHIGAN.

No. 16.

Argued October 16, 1956. Decided February 25, 1957.

Section 343 of the Michigan Penal Code, in effect, makes it a misdemeanor to sell or make available to the general reading public any book containing obscene language "tending to the corruption of the morals of youth." For selling to an adult police officer a book which the trial judge found to have such a potential effect on youth, appellant was convicted of a violation of this section. Held: The statute violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the conviction is reversed. Pp. 380-384.

Reversed.

Manuel Lee Robbins argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief was William G. Comb.

Edmund E. Shepherd, Solicitor General of Michigan, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Thomas M. Kavanagh, Attorney General, and Daniel J. O'Hara, Assistant Attorney General.

Briefs of amici curiae supporting appellant were filed by Horace S. Manges for the American Book Publishers Council. Inc., Osmond K. Fraenkel for the Authors League of America, Inc., and Erwin B. Ellmann for the Metropolitan Detroit Branch. American Civil Liberties Union.

John Ben Shepperd, Attorney General, and Philip Sanders, Assistant Attorney General, filed a brief for the State of Texas, as amicus curiae, urging that the appeal be dismissed.


This appeal from a judgment of conviction entered by the Recorder's Court of the City of Detroit, Michigan, challenges the constitutionality of the following provision, § 343, of the Michigan Penal Code:

"Any person who shall import, print, publish, sell, possess with the intent to sell, design, prepare, loan, give away, distribute or offer for sale, any book, magazine, newspaper, writing, pamphlet, ballad, printed paper, print, picture, drawing, photograph, publication or other thing, including any recordings, containing obscene, immoral, lewd or lascivious language, or obscene, immoral, lewd or lascivious prints, pictures, figures or descriptions, tending to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts, manifestly tending to the corruption of the morals of youth, or shall introduce into any family, school or place of education or shall buy, procure, receive or have in his possession, any such book, pamphlet, magazine, newspaper, writing, ballad, printed paper, print, picture, drawing, photograph, publication or other thing, either for the purpose of sale, exhibition, loan or circulation, or with intent to introduce the same into any family, school or place of education, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

Appellant was charged with its violation for selling to a police officer what the trial judge characterized as "a book containing obscene, immoral, lewd, lascivious language, or descriptions, tending to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts, manifestly tending to the corruption of the morals of youth." Appellant moved to dismiss the proceeding on the claim that application of § 343 unduly restricted freedom of speech as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that the statute (1) prohibited distribution of a book to the general public on the basis of the undesirable influence it may have upon youth; (2) damned a book and proscribed its sale merely because of some isolated passages that appeared objectionable when divorced from the book as a whole; and (3) failed to provide a sufficiently definite standard of guilt. After hearing the evidence, the trial judge denied the motion, and, in an oral opinion, held that ". . . the defendant is guilty because he sold a book in the City of Detroit containing this language [the passages deemed offensive], and also because the Court feels that even viewing the book as a whole, it [the objectionable language] was not necessary to the proper development of the theme of the book nor of the conflict expressed therein." Appellant was fined $100.

Pressing his federal claims, appellant applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Michigan. Although the State consented to the granting of the application "because the issues involved in this case are of great public interest, and because it appears that further clarification of the language of . . . [the statute] is necessary," leave to appeal was denied. In view of this denial, the appeal is here from the Recorder's Court of Detroit. We noted probable jurisdiction. 350 U.S. 963.

Appellant's argument here took a wide sweep. We need not follow him. Thus, it is unnecessary to dissect the remarks of the trial judge in order to determine whether he construed § 343 to ban the distribution of books merely because certain of their passages, when viewed in isolation, were deemed objectionable. Likewise, we are free to put aside the claim that the Michigan law falls within the doctrine whereby a New York obscenity statute was found invalid in Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507.

It is clear on the record that appellant was convicted because Michigan, by § 343, made it an offense for him to make available for the general reading public (and he in fact sold to a police officer) a book that the trial judge found to have a potentially deleterious influence upon youth. The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general welfare. Surely, this is to burn the house to roast the pig. Indeed, the Solicitor General of Michigan has, with characteristic candor, advised the Court that Michigan has a statute specifically designed to protect its children against obscene matter "tending to the corruption of the morals of youth." But the appellant was not convicted for violating this statute.

Section 142 of Michigan's Penal Code provides:
"Any person who shall sell, give away or in any way furnish to any minor child any book, pamphlet, or other printed paper or other thing, containing obscene language, or obscene prints, pictures, figures or descriptions tending to the corruption of the morals of youth, or any newspapers, pamphlets or other printed paper devoted to the publication of criminal news, police reports, or criminal deeds, and any person who shall in any manner hire, use or employ such child to sell, give away, or in any manner distribute such books, pamphlets or printed papers, and any person having the care, custody or control of any such child, who shall permit him or her to engage in any such employment, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."
Section 143 provides:
"Any person who shall exhibit upon any public street or highway, or in any other place within the view of children passing on any public street or highway, any book, pamphlet or other printed paper or thing containing obscene language or obscene prints, figures, or descriptions, tending to the corruption of the morals of youth, or any newspapers, pamphlets, or other printed paper or thing devoted to the publication of criminal news, police reports or criminal deeds, shall on conviction thereof be guilty of a misdemeanor."

We have before us legislation not reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal. The incidence of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children. It thereby arbitrarily curtails one of those liberties of the individual, now enshrined in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that history has attested as the indispensable conditions for the maintenance and progress of a free society. We are constrained to reverse this conviction.

Reversed.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the result.


Summaries of

Butler v. Michigan

U.S.
Feb 25, 1957
352 U.S. 380 (1957)

holding that the First Amendment will not permit restrictions that interfere with the rights of adults to obtain constitutionally protected speech and effectively "reduce the adult population . . . to reading only what is fit for children."

Summary of this case from Southeast Booksellers Association v. McMaster

holding that a state statute prohibiting all distribution of written material harmful to minors was "burn[ing] the house to roast the pig" because it "reduce[d] the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children"

Summary of this case from Cohen v. San Bernardino Valley College

finding First Amendment right to sell sexually explicit material

Summary of this case from Weslowski v. Zugibe

reversing a conviction under a statute which made it an offense to make available to the public materials found to have a potentially harmful influence on minors as an effort to "burn the house to roast the pig"

Summary of this case from American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno

rejecting blanket ban of material "`tending to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts, manifestly tending to the corruption of the morals of youth'" (quoting then Mich. Penal Code § 343)

Summary of this case from United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc.

striking down a statute "quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence" because its effect was "to reduce the adult population . . . to reading only what is fit for children"

Summary of this case from Lebron v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 381 (1957), the Court invalidated a statute prohibiting distribution of an indecent publication because of its tendency to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts.

Summary of this case from Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380 (1957), we struck down a statute restricting the sale of materials " `tending to incite minors to violent or depraved or immoral acts.'"

Summary of this case from Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly

invalidating ban on all books unfit for minors

Summary of this case from United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc.

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380 (1957), a unanimous Court reversed a conviction under a statute which made it an offense to make available to the general public materials found to have a potentially harmful influence on minors.

Summary of this case from Sable Communications of California, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission

In Butler this Court declared unconstitutional a Michigan statute that banned reading materials inappropriate for children.

Summary of this case from Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp.

explaining that an overbroad restriction on speech amounts to “burn[ing] the house to roast the pig”

Summary of this case from Oyama v. Univ. of Haw.

invalidating statute banning reading materials inappropriate for children, but implying that a statute "reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal" would be constitutional

Summary of this case from American Booksellers v. Webb

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 1 L.Ed.2d 412 (1957), the Supreme Court struck down a Michigan law making it unlawful for anyone to make available for the general reading public a book found to have a potentially deleterious influence on youth.

Summary of this case from Upper Midwest Booksellers v. City Minneapolis

In Butler, the Supreme Court unanimously condemned a statute absolutely prohibiting adults or minors from disseminating or possessing any material "tending to the corruption of the morals of youth."

Summary of this case from Upper Midwest Booksellers v. City Minneapolis

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 1 L.Ed.2d 412 (1957), the Court invalidated a state statute that absolutely banned the publication, sale or distribution of reading materials inappropriate for children.

Summary of this case from Pacifica Foundation v. F.C.C.

In Butler v. State of Michigan, 1957, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 1 L.Ed.2d 412, the Court found unconstitutional a Michigan statute which made the distribution to the general public of publications "tending to the corruption of the morals of youth" a misdemeanor.

Summary of this case from Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. City of Dallas

In Butler v. State of Michigan, 1957, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 526, 1 L.Ed.2d 412, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a state law forbidding the general sale or distribution of publications containing obscene language or pictures that tended to incite minors to immoral acts or to corrupt them.

Summary of this case from Volanski v. United States

restricting adults to what is appropriate for juveniles is "not reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal"

Summary of this case from Mainstream Loudoun v. Bd. of Trustees

stating that legislatures are not permitted to "burn the house to roast the pig"

Summary of this case from West Virginia Pride v. Wood County

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 1 L.Ed.2d 412 (1957), the Supreme Court struck down a Michigan law which made it unlawful for anyone to "make available for the general reading public... a book... found to have a potentially deleterious influence on youth."

Summary of this case from American Booksellers Ass'n. v. Strobel

In Butler, a unanimous Supreme Court struck down a statute which made it unlawful "to make available for the general reading public... a book... found to have a potentially deleterious influence upon youth."

Summary of this case from Upper Midwest Booksellers v. City of Minneapolis

In Butler v. Michigan, 1956, 352 U.S. 380, 77 S.Ct. 524, 1 L.Ed.2d 412, appellant was convicted under a section of the Michigan penal code which made it a misdemeanor to sell or make available to the general reading public any book containing obscene language tending to the corruption of the morals of youth.

Summary of this case from Werner v. City of Knoxville

In Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380 (1957), the Court declared unconstitutional a statute which made it an offense to make available to the general public sexually explicit materials found to have a potentially harmful influence on minors.

Summary of this case from Tattered Cover v. Tooley

In Butler, Justice Frankfurter, writing for a unanimous court, declared: "The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general welfare.

Summary of this case from People v. Luros
Case details for

Butler v. Michigan

Case Details

Full title:BUTLER v . MICHIGAN

Court:U.S.

Date published: Feb 25, 1957

Citations

352 U.S. 380 (1957)
77 S. Ct. 524

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