A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" v. Attorney General of Massachusetts

PETITIONER: A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure"
RESPONDENT: Attorney General of Massachusetts
LOCATION: United States Department of Justice

DOCKET NO.: 368
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 383 US 413 (1966)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1965 / Dec 08, 1965
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1966

Facts of the case

A special provision of Massachusetts law allowed the Attorney General to initiate legal proceedings against an "obscene" book, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. The book, also known as Fanny Hill, was written by John Cleland in about 1750. Massachusetts courts, despite the defenses put forward by the book's publisher and copyright holder, judged the work to be obscene.

Question

Did the actions of Massachusetts violate the First Amendment?

Media for A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" v. Attorney General of Massachusetts

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1965 in A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" v. Attorney General of Massachusetts

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1965 in A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" v. Attorney General of Massachusetts

Earl Warren:

Number 368, A Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure", Appellant, versus the Attorney General of Massachusetts.

Charles Rembar:

May it please --

Earl Warren:

Mr. Rembar.

Charles Rembar:

May it please the Court.

This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts which held that this book was not entitled to constitutional protection by a four-to-three votes.

I'm happy to say Mr. Chief Justice that I bring you a case in which is not necessary to read the book.

It's not that we don't want you to read the book, we urge you to read the book.

We think it's a good book.

We do not think it will adversely affect your moral fiber.

We do not think that you will find it deeply offensive.

Although if the members of this busy Court have not had time to keep up with the bestseller lists, you may find the subject matter a bit unusual.

And on the matter of redeeming social importance --

Do (Inaudible) how would a judge make a dissenting opinion without reading the book?

Charles Rembar:

In this way, Your Honor, all counsel here --

And not wasting of my time (Inaudible)

Charles Rembar:

I don't think your time was wasted, Your Honor.

I think, as I say that it is a book which has many values to offer to the reader.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well then, help me because I haven't read it.

Charles Rembar:

Very good, Your Honor.

I will say this though, if I may help the Chief Justice first.

The -- we have here a record in which there is an overwhelming demonstration of the kind of value that all counsel here today agreed, invokes the protection of the First Amendment.

I would suggest that a possible answer to the administrative difficulty that the Chief Justice has outlined is that where you have highly qualified witnesses who come to Court and stake their professional reputations on their analysis of the book and its values where you have published reviews and critical essays by people who have no interest in the outcome of the litigation, which also established that value.

Then on the record, the book is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.

Did the judges in your court decide this (Inaudible).

Charles Rembar:

The majority below, Your Honor, did not accept the test of redeeming social importance.

They referred to it as one other possible test.

It obviously made very small impression on them.

And then they committed an error which I believe this Court will find to be an error on the basis of the record.

They said the book has only minimal literary value.

Now, this Court of course while --