MANual Enterprises, Inc. v. Day/Dissent Clark

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United States Supreme Court

370 U.S. 478

MANUAL ENTERPRISES, INC., et al., Petitioners,  v.  J. Edward DAY, Postmaster General of the United States.

 Argued: Feb. 26 and 27, 1962. --- Decided: June 25, 1962

Mr. Justice CLARK (dissenting).

While those in the majority like ancient Gaul are split into three parts, the ultimate holding of the Court today, despite the clear congressional mandate found in § 1461, requires the United States Post Office to be the world's largest disseminator of smut and Grand Informer of the names and places where obscene material may be obtained. The Judicial Officer of the Post Office Department, the District Court, and the Court of Appeals have all found the magazines in issue to be nonmailable on the alternative grounds that they are obscene and that they contain information on where obscene material may be obtained. The Court, however, says that these magazines must go through the mails. Brother HARLAN, writing for himself and Brother STEWART, finds that the magazines themselves are unobjectionable because § 1461 is not so narrowly drawn as to prohibit the mailing of material 'that incites immoral sexual conduct,' and that the presence of information leading to obscene material does not taint the magazines because their publishers were unaware of the true nature of this information. Brother BRENNAN, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Brother DOUGLAS, finds that § 1461 does not authorize the Postmaster General through administrative process to close the mails to matter included within its proscriptions. Since in my view the Postmaster General is required by § 1461 to reject nonmailable matter, I would affirm the judgment on the sole ground that the magazines contain information as to where obscene material can be obtained and thus are nonmailable. I, therefore, do not consider the question of whether the magazines as such are obscene.

The procedures followed below can be described briefly. Petitioners deposited in the Post Office in Alexandria, Virginia, six parcels containing 405 copies of three magazines which they published. The parcels were directed to petitioners' agent in Chicago and marked as second class matter. Being unsealed and subject to inspection, [1] the Postmaster noticed that the material appeared to be obscene. Under the regulations of the Post Office Department in effect since 1902, the Alexandria Postmaster notified the General Counsel of the Post Office Department in Washington and submitted samples of the material; the General Counsel determined the magazines to be nonmailable under § 1461 and notified petitioners' president. Petitioners sought injunctive relief against the Department in the District Court on the grounds that the magazines did not violate § 1461 and the procedure used amounted to an unconstitutional 'ex parte administrative prior restraint,' but the suit was dismissed for determination of the issue at an administrative hearing provided for by the Department's regulations. After a full hearing, at which petitioners did not dispute the congressional authorization to reject the six parcels for second class mailings, the Judicial Officer declared the material nonmailable. Petitioners contested this finding by judicial review in the District Court, where the action of the Judicial Officer was upheld.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN, as I have indicated, has reached the conclusion that when the Congress originally passed the Act in question some 97 years ago it granted no power to the Post Office to refuse to receive and carry matter declared by the Act to be nonmailable. Since this point was neither presented below nor argued here, I do not believe it to be properly before us. Brother BRENNAN, however, rests his concurring opinion on it and for that reason I shall discuss the issue. [2]

'Every obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance; and * * * (e)very written or printed card, letter, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind giving information, directly or indirectly, where, or how, or from whom, or by what means any of such mentioned matters, articles, or things may be obtained * * * (i)s declared to be nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier.' (Emphasis supplied.)

Its genesis was in Section 16 of the Act of March 3, 1865, 13 Stat. 507, which when reported in the Senate had two parts:

'(N)o obscene book, pamphlet, picture, print, or other publication of a vulgar and indecent character, shall be admitted into the mails of the United States; but all such obscene publications deposited in or received at any post office, or discovered in the mails, shall be seized and destroyed, or otherwise disposed of, as the Postmaster General shall direct.'

'(A)ny person or persons who shall deposit or cause to be deposited in any post office or branch post office of the United States, for mailing or for delivery, an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, print, or other publication, knowing the same to be of a vulgar and indecent character, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor * * *.' Cong. Globe, 38th Cong., 2d Sess. 661.

The sponsor of the bill advised the Senate that it had a twofold effect: 'The first part of it provides that if such (obscene) publications are in the mails the postmasters may take them out; and the latter part provides a penalty and a punishment for those who put them into the mails.' This explanation of the sponsor seems enough to undermine Brother BRENNAN's contention, but there is even more. Senator Johnson of Maryland apparently feared that obscene matter might be mailed in sealed envelopes and that 'the postmaster * * * will break the seal.' He moved to strike out the first part of the bill. Senator Sherman, however, objected, saying that 'the legislative prohibition against carrying such matter when it is known to the postmasters should be left. Probably the second clause allowing him to open mail matter should be struck out.' Ibid. (Emphasis supplied.) Senator Johnson acquiesced in this suggestion, and thus the bill as finally passed clearly permitted postmasters to refuse matters which were known by them to be obscene, so long as seals were not broken. [3]

The 1873 postal regulations reflected this power to exclude obscene matter from the mails, [4] as have all succeeding ones, e.g., Postal Laws and Regulations (1893 ed.) § 335. In 1876 the Act was amended to substantially its present form. 19 Stat. 90. It not only declared certain material 'to be non-mailable matter' but added that such 'shall not be conveyed in the mails, nor delivered from any post-office nor by any letter-carrier.' A single comment by the bill's sponsor in the House reflects the understanding that this section, both before and after amendment, authorized exclusion:

'(T)he proposed bill in no wise changes the law as it now is except to provide a penalty for the circulation of obscene literature. By an oversight in drafting the original section the penalty applies only to the disposition of articles circulated or sold for the purpose of procuring abortion or preventing conception. Already this obscene class of matter spoken of in the other portion of the section is prohibited from passing through the mails, but no penalty is provided. * * * (I)t in no way changes the section as it now is. It makes nothing non-mailable that is not now non-mailable. It merely provides a penalty. * * *' 4 Cong.Rec. 695 (1876). (Emphasis supplied.)

Regulations establishing the procedure now used by the Department to determine questions of mailability were adopted in 1902. And in 1960 in a recodification the Congress included § 1461 within its collection of provisions which designate matter as nonmailable. 39 U.S.C. (Supp. II) § 4001(a), 39 U.S.C.A. § 4001(a).

In light of the language of the statutes, the legislative history, the subsequent recodification and the consistent history of administrative interpretation, it stretches my imagination to understand how one could conclude that Congress did not authorize the Post Office Department to exclude nonmailable material. As Justice Brandeis said in United States ex rel. Milwaukee Social Democratic Publishing Co. v. Burleson, 255 U.S. 407, 418, 421, 41 S.Ct. 352, 356, 357, 65 L.Ed. 704. (1921) (dissenting opinion):

'The scope of the Postmaster General's alleged authority is confessedly the same whether the reason for the nonmailable quality of the matter inserted in a newspaper is that it violates the Espionage Act, or the copyright laws, or that it is part of a scheme to defraud, or concerns lotteries, or is indecent, or is in any other respect matter which Congress has declared shall not be admitted to the mails.

'As a matter of administration the Postmaster General, through his subordinates, rejects matter offered for mailing, or removes matter already in the mail, which in his judgment is unmailable. The existence in the Postmaster General of the power to do this cannot be doubted. The only question which can arise is whether in the individual case the power has been illegally exercised.'

Let us now turn to the opinion of Brother HARLAN and first take up the question whether magazines which indisputably contain information on where obscene material may be obtained can be considered nonmailable apart from the sender's scienter. Giving regard to the wording of § 1461, the interests involved, and the nature of the sanction imposed, I fail to see how the sender's scienter is anywise material to a determination of nonmailability. Section 1461 very explicitly demands that no information 'be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier' if it in fact tells how obscene material can be obtained. This command running to those charged with the administration of the postal system is not conditioned by the words of the statute upon the sender's scienter or any remotely similar consideration. When it wants to inject a scienter requirement, the Congress well knows the words to use, as evidenced by the very next sentence in § 1461 establishing the criminal sanctions: 'Whoever knowingly uses the mails for the mailing, carriage in the mails, or delivery of anything declared by this section to be nonmailable * * * shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both * * *.' (Emphasis supplied.) Congress could not have made it more clear that the sender's knowledge of the material to be mailed did not determine its mailability but only his responsibility for mailing it. Nor is there any reason why Congress-in a civil action should have wanted it any other way. The sender's knowledge of the matter sought to be mailed is immaterial to the harm caused to the public by its dissemination. Finally, interpreting § 1461 to mean what it says would not give rise to the 'serious constitutional question' envisioned. This fear is premised entirely on Smith v. California, 361 u.S. 147, 80 S.Ct. 215, 4 L.Ed.2d 205 (1959), which was a criminal case. Surely the prerequisites to criminal responsibility are quite different from the tests for the use of the mails. The present determination of nonmailability of bulk packages of magazines to newsstands rains no sanctions or incriminations upon the publishers of these magazines nor does it confiscate or impound the magazines. For these reasons, I believe the only possible interpretation of § 1461 is that the sender's scienter is immaterial in determining the mailability of information on where obscene material can be obtained.

In passing, it might be noted that a requirement of scienter gives rise to some interesting problems. For instance: Is the sender's scienter permanently fixed at the time the material is first unsuccessfully offered for mailing, or is his scienter to be re-evaluated when the material is again offered for mailing? How are equitable principles such as 'clean hands' and 'he who seeks equity must do equity' squared in a proceeding to enjoin an administrative nonmailable order with an insistence on mailing material which has been shown to contain information leading to obscene material?

However, assuming that the knowledge of the sender is material in determining the mailability of these magazines, I submit the undisputed facts and findings compel as a matter of law the conclusion that the petitioners knew that materials published in their magazines informed their readers where obscene matter might be obtained. To say the least, these facts and findings are such that this Court ought not to set itself up as a fact-finder but should remand the case for a determination by those who have been entrusted initially with this responsibility. [5]

The content and direction of the magazines themselves are a tip-off as to the nature of the business of those who solicit through them. The magazines have no social, educational, or entertainment qualities but are designed solely as sex stimulants for homosexuals. They 'consist almost entirely of photographs of young men in nude or practically nude poses handled in such a manner as to focus attention on their genitals or buttocks or to emphasize these parts * * *.' Because of this content the magazines do 'not appeal to the ordinary male adult, * * * (who) would have no interest in them and would not buy them under ordinary circumstances and * * * (therefore) the readers of these publications consist almost entirely of male homosexuals and possibly a few adolescent males * * *.' The publishers freely admit that the magazines are published to appeal to the male homosexual group. The advertisements and photographer lists in such magazines were quite naturally 'designed so as to attract the male homosexual and to furnish him with names and addresses where nude male pictures in poses and conditions which would appeal to his prurient interest may be obtained.' Moreover, the advertisements themselves could leave no more doubt in the publishers' minds than in those of the solicited purchasers. To illustrate: some captioned a picture of a nude or scantily attired young man with the legend 'perfectly proportioned, handsome, male models, age 18-26.' Others featured a photograph of a nude male with the area around the privates obviously retouched so as to cover the genitals and part of the pubic hair and offered to furnish an 'original print of this photo.' Finally, each magazine specifically endorsed its listed photographers and requested its readers to support them by purchasing their products. In addition, three of the four magazines involved expressly represented that they were familiar with the work of the photographers listed in their publications. [6]

Turning to Womack, the president and directing force of all three corporate publishers, it is even clearer that we are not dealing here with a 'Jack and Jill' operation. Mr. Womack admitted that the magazines were planned for homosexuals, designed to appeal to and stimulate their erotic interests. To improve on this effect, he made suggestions to photographers as to the type of pictures he wanted. For example, he informed one of the studios listed in his publications that 'physique fans want their 'truck driver types' already cleaned up, showered, and ready for bed * * * (and) it is absolutely essential that the models have pretty faces and a personality not totally unrelated to sex appeal.' Womack had also suggested to the photographers that they exchange customer names with the hope of compiling a master list of homosexuals. He himself had been convicted of selling obscene photographs via the mails. Womack v. United States, 111 U.S.App.D.C. 8, 294 F.2d 204 (1961). More recently he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to like charges. Washington Post, Feb. 1, 1962, p. D-3. Furthermore, he was warned in March, April, and July of 1959 that a number of his photographer advertisers were being prosecuted for mailing obscene matter and that he might be violating the law in transmitting through the mails their advertisements. However, he continued to disseminate such information through the mails, removing photographers from his lists only as they were convicted. Finally, through another controlled corporation not here involved, he filled orders for one of his advertisers sent in by the readers of his magazines. This material was found to be obscene and like all of the above facts and findings it is not contested here.

The corporate petitioners are chargeable with the knowledge of what they do, as well as the knowledge of their president and leader. How one can fail to see the obvious in this record is beyond my comprehension. In the words of Milton: 'O dark, dark, dark amid the blaze of noon.' For one to conclude that the above undisputed facts and findings are insufficient to show the required scienter, however stringently it may be defined, is in effect to repeal the advertising provisions of § 1461. To condition nonmailability on proof that the sender actually saw the material being sold by his advertisers is to portray the Congress as the 'mother' in the jingle, 'Mother, may I go out to swim? Yes, my darling daughter. Hang your clothes on a hickory limb and don't go near the water.'

For these reasons I would affirm the decision below.


^1  39 U.S.C. (Supp. II) § 4058, 39 U.S.C.A. § 4058.

^2  I agree with the conclusion in that opinion that petitioners' constitutional claim cannot be considered here.

^3  The magazines here involved were second class matter and thus were unsealed and subject to inspection. 39 U.S.C. (Supp. II) § 4058, 39 U.S.C.A. § 4058.

^4  'All books, pamphlets, circulars, prints, &c., of an obscene, vulgar, or indecent character * * * must be withdrawn from the mails by postmasters at either the office of mailing or the office of delivery.' Postal Laws and Regulations (1873 ed.) § 88. (Emphasis supplied.)

^5  If the express rejection by the Judicial Officer of petitioners' proposed finding that they had 'no personal knowledge of the material sold by the advertisers' is taken as a finding to the contrary, then of course this is entitled to the deference accorded administrative findings, cf., e.g., National Labor Relations Board v. Walton Mfg. Co., 369 U.S. 404, 82 S.Ct. 853, 7 L.Ed.2d 829 (1962).

^6  The magazines were offered in six bundles, apparently with copies of each of the four magazines intermingled among the bundles.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).