Update: New obscene materials law struck down

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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On the day it was supposed to take effect, an Indianapolis federal judge struck down in its entirety a new law that would have required bookstores, retailers, and others to register with the state and pay a fee to sell any sexually explicit material.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a ruling Tuesday in Big Hat Books, et al. v. Prosecutors, No. 1:08-CV-00596, which challenged the constitutionality of House Enrolled Act 1042 passed earlier this year by the Indiana General Assembly. The statute would have required any person or organization - including all employees - wanting to sell literature or other material deemed harmful to minors under Indiana law to register with the Secretary of State and pay a $250 filing fee.

In her 31-page ruling, Judge Barker ruled that the new law is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and a violation of the First Amendment.

"A romance novel sold at a drugstore, a magazine offering sex advice in a grocery store checkout line, an R-rated DVD sold by a video rental shop, a collection of old Playboy magazines sold by a widow at a garage sale - all incidents of unquestionably lawful, nonobscene, nonpornographic materials being sold to adults - would appear to necessitate registration under the statute," she wrote. "Such a broad reach is, without question, constitutionally disproportionate to the stated aim of the statute to provide a community 'heads up' upon the opening of 'adult bookstore-type businesses.'"

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the suit May 7, and plaintiffs included the Indianapolis Museum of Art, booksellers, and publishing organizations. They worried that any material they sell - books, music, art, photos - that is considered sexually explicit under Indiana statute would require them to register with the state if they relocate even if the material isn't intended for the sale to or use by minors, or if they hire a new employee after June 30. The plaintiffs claimed that having to register would label the businesses and organizations as purveyors of sexually explicit material and harm their reputation.

Judge Barker determined the new law wasn't narrowly tailored, is clearly content-based, and the $250 fee is itself a "punitive measure." She also wrote that the law is vague because it doesn't give adequate guidance to those who'd have to enforce or follow the statute.

"Defendants have sidestepped entirely the issue of whether such a statement (detailing the materials for sale) needs to be updated as inventories change; clearly the statute provides no guidance on this point," she wrote. "There can be no doubt that compliance with such a vague mandate will be unduly burdensome, will have a chilling effect on expression, and will fail to provide ordinary people with a reasonable degree of notice as to the law's requirements; the Constitution demands no less."

While plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction, the judge wrote in a footnote that the request was moot because of her striking down of the entire statute. The Attorney General's Office announced today it will not appeal the decision. The law's author, Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Crothersville, has vowed to rewrite and bring the law up again during the 2009 session.

Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, applauded the decision.

"This emphasizes the fact that it's incumbent on the legislature to think about the First Amendment and constitutional rights when they're drafting legislation," he said Tuesday. "We hope that will happen more in the future."

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  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  5. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well