Press Release: Supreme Court denies cert in Hudnut v. American Booksellers Association


February 24, 1986 — The U.S. Supreme court today turned down the City of Indianapolis in its appeal of a ruling in Hudnut v. American Booksellers Assn. that struck down a city ordinance making the sale of sexually explicit materials depicting “subordination of women” a violation of civil rights law.

The Supreme Court affirmed decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana that declared the ordinance unconstitutional because it would have led to the suppression of books, magazines and movies that are protected works under the First Amendment.

“By upholding the decisions below, the Court has removed any doubt that this type of statutory scheme is unconstitutional,” Michael A. Bamberger, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said today. “This should bring to a halt the misguided attempts of various groups to regulate sale of legitimate works in the name of upholding the civil rights of women,” he added.

Bamberger is a partner in the New York office of the law firm of Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that the Indianapolis law defined “pornography” so broadly that it would result in banning books by best selling authors like John Updike, Anais Nin, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Kranz, Ian Fleming and Harold Robbins and general release movies like “Dressed to Kill,” “Ten,” “Star 80,” “Body Heat,” “Swept Away,” “Last Tango in Paris.”

The plaintiffs were the American Booksellers Association, Association of American Publishers, Council for Periodical Distributors Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, International Periodical Distributors Association, Koch News Company, National Association of College Stores, Omega Satellite Products, Video Shack, Inc. and Kelly Bentley.

The Indianapolis ordinance was passed in April 1984 under pressure by a coalition of radical feminists and religious groups. Its proponents argued that sexually explicit materials should be curbed because they perpetuate stereotypes of women as inferior to men that encourage discrimination and sexual violence.

The ordinance was first declared unconstitutional in November 1984 by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker who declared that in infringing upon the First Amendment the Indianapolis ordinance threatened a freedom that had been very important to women in their struggle for equality. Barker’s decision was unanimously upheld by a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in August 1985.