Butler v. Michigan

LOCATION: Quality Photo Shop


CITATION: 352 US 380 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1956
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1957

Edmund E. Shepherd - for the Respondent
Manuel Lee Robbins - for the Petitioner

Facts of the case

John H. Griffin’s book <i>The Devil Rides Outside</i> traces the spiritual development of an unnamed American musician as he vacillates between choosing a life in a Benedictine monastery and the lustfulness of the outside world. When Alfred Butler, the Detroit district sales manager of Pocket Books, sold a copy of the book to a police officer, he was arrested and charged with violating a Michigan obscenity statute. At trial, the judge held that the book contained obscene language that could lead to the corruption of minors and that the passages in question lacked redeeming literary value. Butler was convicted and fined $100. Butler appealed and argued that the statute violated his right to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court of Michigan denied Butler’s application for leave to appeal.


Does the Michigan obscenity statute violate free speech rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments? 

Media for Butler v. Michigan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1956 (Part 1) in Butler v. Michigan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1956 (Part 2) in Butler v. Michigan

Earl Warren:

You may continue, Mr. Shepherd.

Edmund E. Shepherd:

I would like Mr. Chief Justice to answer your last question.

Earl Warren:

Thank you.

Edmund E. Shepherd:

And at the same time to reanswer a question from Associate Justice Brennan.

Michigan has no record of legislative history for being possibly to tell just why that amendment was enacted.

My guess would be and it's merely a guess or a suggestion that that additional phrase or clause was put in there because of the increase in juvenile delinquency of which we are all aware.

Now if I might digress in the record just to give you an illustration of that, the other day just before I let -- I had occasioned to visit the State Police Post.

And there for the first time I observed polygraph test of a young man 19 years of age, accused of statutory rape on a 13-year old girl.

And I watched that and I observed his answers and he didn't confess, I understand he did live.

But the horrible part of it was that at the same time six others were awaiting a similar test for statutory rape on the same 13-year old girl.

So it maybe that acts of that kind induce the legislature to amend the statute.

Now, coming back to my answer to your question, Mr. Justice Brennan --

Earl Warren:

Well before you answer that one, Mr. Shepherd, I -- I wondered if -- if in passing this amendment, your legislature thought that perhaps it had to put another definition.

It created another standard let's say or another type of obscenity in order to be able to convict people.

Edmund E. Shepherd:

That might be true.

Now, logically I passed to reanswering this other question.

I do not think that under the -- the statute and in each particular case, you have to prove as a matter of fact that some particular youth, a boy or a man was led to commit some act of deprivation.

I think that the -- the case, as a matter of fact, the issue of fact would be the matter contained in the book with the matter contained in the book tends to do these things.

So that as in this case, the Recorder's Court judge resolved the issue of fact but finding as I view this record that taking the book as a whole and having read of it, it is obscene within this definition.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I understand from that that the State's position that there was a finding on the book as a whole.

Edmund E. Shepherd:

Yes, Your Honor.

That is definitely not the expensive maybe tedious.

Just for a few minutes, I want to take you to this record and show you just why I -- I make that contention.

At the outset, a motion was filed to -- on -- on the face of the statute.

The motion is filed to dismiss.

And on page 16 of the record there are some discussion about that in which the Recorder's judge reserves his decision on that motion.

And he didn't pass upon it until the end of the trial.

Now, he says among other things in regard to that.

Now I would like first to meet on -- I would like first to meet with counsel because after all, some of these passages are delicate.

Some of these passages, I don't mind telling you, so far as I am only on page 123, referring to the book, and there are over 500 pages.