Over at Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway has an informative post about a historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, issued fifty years ago today, in the case of ONE Incorporated v. Oleson. It was the first Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of a gay organization (or, for that matter, gay individual) seeking relief from discriminatory government action.
I thought I could not find the full text of the Supreme Court's decision until I reread that last paragraph, which mentions "its short, one-sentence decision." Then I realized I had, in fact, found the complete ruling but was mislead by its brevity. Here is the complete decision as issued fifty years ago today, January 13, 1958:
[The October 1954 issue of ONE] was enough for the Los Angeles Post Office to seize that issue — the one with “You Can’t Print It!” on the cover — and charge the editors with violating the 1873 Comstock Act, which prohibited sending “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” material through the mail.
The editors were eager to sue the Post Office, but ONE’s financial condition was so perilous that they held off for nearly a year. Jubler took the case for free and looked for help from the ACLU, but they wouldn’t touch it — the ACLU was still defending anti-sodomy laws at the time. Finally it was up to young Jubler alone to argue ONE’s case in federal district court that the magazine was educational and not pornographic. It didn’t go well. The judge ruled for the Post Office in March 1956, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in February 1957, calling ONE “morally depraving and debasing” and saying that the magazine “has a primary purpose of exciting lust, lewd and lascivious thoughts and sensual desires in the minds of persons reading it.”
ONE then took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. To everyone’s surprise, the Court agreed to take the case, its first ever dealing with homosexuality. Even more surprising, the Supreme Court issued its short, one-sentence decision on January 13, 1958 without hearing oral arguments. That decision not only overturned the two lower courts, but the Court expanded the First Amendment’s free speech and press freedoms by effectively limiting the power of the Comstock Act to interfere with the written word. As a result, lesbian and gay publications could be mailed without legal repercussions, though many continued to experience harassment from the Post Office and U.S. Customs.
U.S. Supreme CourtThat's just a bit more verbose than Clarence Thomas during oral arguments.
ONE, INCORPORATED, v. OLESEN, 355 U.S. 371 (1958)
355 U.S. 371
ONE, INCORPORATED, v. OLESEN, POSTMASTER OF LOS ANGELES.
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT. No. 290.
Decided January 13, 1958.
241 F.2d 772, reversed.
Eric Julber for petitioner.
Solicitor General Rankin, Acting Assistant Attorney General Leonard and Samuel D. Slade for respondent.
The petition for writ of certiorari is granted and the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476.
Page 355 U.S. 371, 372
Wikipedia also has some background on ONE in this article.