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CIVIL LIBERTIES DOCKET
Vol. II, No. 2
February, 1957

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HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS ISSUE


Censorship of Writing, Writers, Movies, and Actors

The number of cases involving attempted censorship of books, periodicals and motion pictures continues to increase. Although in some of the cases, courts have refused to pass on the constitutionality of the censorship statutes involved, that issue is necessarily inherent in all of the pending cases. No doubt it will, sooner or later, be presented to the United States Supreme Court, and perhaps some of the questions left undecided by Winters v. New York, 333 U. S. 507, and Burstyn v. Wilson, 343 U. S. 495, will be resolved.

Most of the pending cases involve motion pictures claimed to be obscene. In Times Film Corp. v. Chicago (12.1), a Federal District Court held a typical obscenity statute constitutional, and held further that the picture involved was obscene. But two other courts, in Matter of Excelsior Pictures Corp. v. Regents (12.3) and Dickinson Operating Co. v. Kansas City Officials (12.4), refused to hold a motion picture obscene and enjoined state and city officials from interfering with its exhibition. In the Excelsior case, one of the judges wrote a concurring opinion to the effect that the Burstyn case had invalidated the New York obscenity statute in its entirety. Another case involving the New York obscenity statutes is Kingsley Int'l Pictures v. Regents (12.2), in which state officials refused a license, and the exhibitor has appealed to the courts.

Most of the pending cases affecting books and magazines raise the issue of the right of local police officials to interfere with their sale, generally, through use of the licensing power. In Sunshine Book Co. v. McCaffrey (14.1), the police commissioner has threatened to revoke licenses of newsdealers who sell future issues of the plaintiff's publication. A similar situation is presented in Popular Library v. Hamm (23.3), and HMH Publishing Co. v. Hamm (23.4), in which the local official is charged with using a list prepared by the National Organization for Decent Literature as a guide. All three cases are pending.

Another form of censorship, based on politics rather than obscenity, and exercised by private rather than public persons, is presented in two important motion picture cases. In Independent Productions Corp. v. Loew's (30.1) an independent producer is charging a large group of exhibitors and distributors with having blacklisted the picture "Salt of the Earth", because of the political activities of the producers. In Wilson v. Loew's (344.2), many of the same defendants are charged with maintaining a blacklist of a number of movie writers and actors because of their defiance of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1951 and 1952. The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the Wilson case.

Taking an Oath to Get or Hold a Job

Two years ago the Washington legislature passed a loyalty act providing for the immediate mandatory discharge of any University of Washington employee who failed to sign a notarized oath that he was not currently a member of the Communist Party or any organization on the list prepared by the Attorney General of the United States. While the National Lawyers Guild was attacking, in the federal courts, the power of the Attorney General to issue such a list even for use by the federal government in screening its employees and prospective employees (Guild v. Brownell, 221.1), two professors at the U. of Washington brought an action seeking to enjoin the administration of the University from requiring them to take the oath (Savelle and Nostrand v. U. of Wash., 280.1). In December, 1956, the trial court held, orally, that the section of the loyalty act referring to the Attorney General's list was unconstitutional because it constituted an unlawful delegation of power without adequate standards.

In November, 1956, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the constitutionality of the Broyles Act, which forbids the use of state funds to pay the salaries of teachers and other public employees who refuse to sign a loyalty oath. (Pickus v. Chicago Bd. of Educ., 280.2).

For some time it has been expected that the requirement of oaths of non-membership in political organizations might be extended to organizations in the civil rights field. In 1956 South Carolina enacted a statute forbidding any municipality, school district or state agency from employing any member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Under this act, teachers in a Negro segregated public school were given questionnaires asking about their membership in or support of the N.A.A.C.P. and also whether they "favor integration in schools." A group of teachers brought suit to prevent the school board from discharging them because of their refusal to take the oath (Bryan v. Austin, 261.8). The case has been argued before a 3-judge federal court and the decision is awaited.

NOTE: In California, one Syrek is seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board to pay him unemployment compensation after his discharge by a private corporation for refusal to sign a loyalty questionnaire. (See 263.1).

And see decisions in Mass (342.4) and UE (280.6).

Racial Segregation in Public Housing Projects

After lengthy proceedings solely on the question of venue and jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that Negro Plaintiffs can sue the Savannah Housing Authority and the U. S. Public Housing Authority to enjoin allocation of federal funds and technical assistance for the construction of racially segregated public housing in Savannah. (See Heyward, 531.1).

And the U. S. District Court in Michigan has issued an injunction restraining the Benton Harbor Housing Commission from practicing racial segregation and discrimination. (See Askew, 531.3).