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Judge strikes down new obscene-material law

January 1, 2008
On the day a new Indiana law was set to take effect, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker struck it down as being unconstitutionally vague, overbroad, and a violation of the First Amendment.

The 31-page ruling was issued by the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, this afternoon in Big Hat Books, et al. v. Prosecutors, 1:08-CV-00596, a challenge to House Enrolled Act 1042 that would have required any person or organization 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.

Plaintiffs, which included the Indianapolis Museum of Art, booksellers, and multiple publishing organizations, claimed that the new law is unconstitutionally vague, an unjustified content-based restriction on activity that is protected, is irrational and violates due process, and is a content-based punitive tax on First Amendment protected materials.

Judge Barker granted final summary judgment in the case, holding that it "unduly burdens First Amendment rights, and is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad."

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana that had filed the suit, 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. "We hope that will happen more in the future."

This story will be updated in Wednesday's Indiana Lawyer Daily and the July 9 issue of Indiana Lawyer.
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