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Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan
United States Supreme Court
372 U.S. 58 (1963)
The Rhode Island Legislature created the Rhode Island Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth (the commission), which was tasked with (1) educating the public about publications that contained obscene, indecent, or impure language or that tended to corrupt young people and (2) investigating and recommending the prosecution of violations of state statutory prohibitions on obscene and objectionable publications. If the commission determined that a distributor was selling, distributing, or displaying objectionable materials, the commission sent the distributor a notice on official commission stationery. The notice reminded the distributor of the commission’s duty to recommend distributors of obscene materials to the state attorney general for prosecution and thanked the distributor in advance for cooperating with the commission. The notice also identified the publications that the commission had determined to be objectionable but provided no further information about the basis for the commission’s decision. Max Silverstein distributed books in Rhode Island for publishers including Bantam Books, Incorporated (the publishers) (plaintiff). Silverstein had received at least 35 notices of objectionable materials from the commission. When Silverstein received the notices, he took steps to stop circulation of the identified books, including refusing orders for the books and returning unsold books from retailers to the publishers. Silverstein said that he chose to cooperate with the commission rather than risk the possibility of legal action. Although the publishers’ books were never seized or banned by the state and no one was prosecuted for possessing or selling the books, there was a decrease in the sales and circulation of the books identified in the commission’s notices. The publishers brought an action against commission members including Joseph Sullivan (defendants), claiming that the law creating the commission was unconstitutional. The trial court refused to declare the law unconstitutional, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed. The publishers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)
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