Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown

PETITIONER: Kingsley Books, Inc. et al.
RESPONDENT: Peter Campbell Brown
LOCATION: Kingsley Books, Inc.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 354 US 436 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1957

Facts of the case

New York state law authorized the legal counsel for a municipality to seek an injunction against and the destruction of material deemed by the courts to be obscene. Peter Campbell Brown, Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, sought such an injunction against several bookstores. The process of review that followed was a civil, rather than criminal procedure, and the courts ultimately granted the injunction and sought to destroy the obscene material.


Did the civil procedure as laid out by New York statute violate the booksellers' rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by not allowing for a criminal trial before imposing an injunction and destroying the obscene material?

Media for Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1957 (Part 1) in Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1957 (Part 2) in Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown

Emanuel Redfield:

-- I'm about to say that after a trial, sometime before Christmas of that year.

And If you recall, the temporary injunction was granted in September and the trial took place shortly before Christmas.

After deliberating over the question, despite the law of saying that judgments have to be made within two days.

The court took until, I think subsequent June before he rendered a decision.

The injunction restrained these appellants from distributing, selling or acquiring possession of these books.

It held the volumes to be obscene.

I take it --

Emanuel Redfield:

And --

-- in your position, nothing turns on the degree of the obscenity that's at bar.

Emanuel Redfield:


That it's hard -- what the Government calls in the next case hardcore obscenity, why your point would be still --

Emanuel Redfield:

I'm -- I'm not touching that point at all.

I'm -- I -- I did not contest it from the beginning.


Emanuel Redfield:

Yes, and in that action, of course, I raised the constitutional questions that I'm here raising.

But the court held the law to be constitutional.

It held that there was no prior restraint involved and the very voluminous opinion written seems to focus its attention on the fact that these books were so bad that it didn't appeal to this judge.

He also held that the law will be constitutional because no prior restraint was involved in that by analogy to certain picketing cases.

There could not be a prior restraint.

Then we appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York, and the court there sustained the constitutionality of the statute with three judges siding with one opinion and three judges with another opinion.

In my argument as I stated earlier, the only issue is would a prior restraint by this injunctive procedure.

In attacking this problem, for the moment, I have to omit the feature of obscenity, I will come to that and if I don't have time to come to it, it's in my brief.

And we have to start with this.

What is the effect of this statute?

Under the law of both the statute and the general equity procedures in New York, a stay was obtained, a temporary injunction was granted and seizure of the books follows.

The statute therefore in effect, and that is the important element, in effect operates to prevent the publication from reaching the public.

The injunction might well issue before the books are even bound, if they're merely being printed and held ready for distribution.

And in that sense the advice goes to the very heart of protecting publications from suppression.

It was established long ago in this Court, that distribution is protected as well as publication.

The (Inaudible) case holds that.