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United States Supreme Court

383 U.S. 502

Edward MISHKIN, Appellant,  v.  STATE OF NEW YORK.

 Argued: Dec. 7, 1965. --- Decided: March 21, 1966

Mr. Justice BLACK, dissenting.

The Court here affirms convictions and prison sentences aggregating three years plus fines totaling $12,000 imposed on appellant Mishkin based on state charges that he hired others to prepare and publish obscene books and that Mishkin himself possessed such books. This Court has held in many cases that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the First applicable to the States. See for illustration cases collected in my concurring opinion in Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 530, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 1344, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460. Consequently upon the same grounds that I dissented from a five-year federal sentence imposed upon Ginzburg in 383 U.S. 476, 86 S.Ct. 950, for sending 'obscene' printed matter through the United States mails I dissent from affirmance of this three-year state sentence imposed on Mishkin. Neither in this case nor in Ginzburg have I read the alleged obscene matter. This is because I believe for reasons stated in my dissent in Ginzburg and in many other prior cases that this Court is without constitutional power to censor speech or press regardless of the particular subject discussed. I think the federal judiciary because it is appointed for life is the most appropriate tribunal that could be selected to interpret the Constitution and thereby mark the boundaries of what government agencies can and cannot do. But because of life tenure, as well as other reasons, the federal judiciary is the least appropriate branch of government to take over censorship responsibilities by deciding what pictures and writings people throughout the land can be permitted to see and read. When this Court makes particularized rules on what people can see and read, it determines which policies are reasonable and right thereby performing the classical function of legislative bodies directly responsible to the people. Accordingly, I wish once more to express my objections to saddling this Court with the irksome and inevitably unpopular and unwholesome task of finally deciding by a case-by-case, sight-by-sight personal judgment of the members of this Court what pornography (whatever that means) is too hard core for people to see or read. If censorship of views about sex or any other subject is constitutional then I am reluctantly compelled to say that I believe the tedious, time-consuming and unwelcome responsibility for finally deciding what particular discussions or opinions must be suppressed in this country, should, for the good of this Court and of the Nation, be vested in some governmental institution or institutions other than this Court.

I would reverse these convictions. The three-year sentence imposed on Mishkin and the five-year sentence imposed on Ginzburg for expressing views about sex are minor in comparison with those more lengthy sentences that are inexorably bound to follow in state and federal courts as pressures and prejudices increase and grow more powerful, which of course they will. Nor is it a sufficient answer to these assuredly ever-increasing punishments to rely on this Court's power to strike down 'cruel and unusual punishments' under the Eighth Amendment. Distorting or stretching that Amendment by reading it as granting unreviewable power to this Court to perform the legislative function of fixing punishments for all state and national offenses offers a sadly inadequate solution to the multitudinous problems generated by what I consider to be the un-American policy of censoring the thoughts and opinions of people. The only practical answer to these concededly almost unanswerable problems is, I think, for this Court to decline to act as a national board of censors over speech and press but instead to stick to its clearly authorized constitutional duty to adjudicate cases over things and conduct. Halfway censorship methods, no matter how laudably motivated, cannot in my judgment protect our cherished First Amendment freedoms from the destructive aggressions of both state and national government. I would reverse this case and announce that the First and Fourteenth Amendments taken together command that neither Congress nor the States shall pass laws which in any manner abridge freedom of speech and press-whatever the subjects discussed. I think the Founders of our Nation in adopting the First Amendment meant precisely that the Federal Government should pass 'no law' regulating speech and press but should confine its legislation to the regulation of conduct. So too, that policy of the First Amendment made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, leaves the States vast power to regulate conduct but no power at all, in my judgment, to make the expression of views a crime.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).