Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—October 11

Florida Supreme Court Building (Wikimedia Commons)

1990—More from Florida justices Rosemary Barkett and Gerald Kogan. In Stall v. State, the Florida supreme court adheres to its previous precedents holding that Florida’s statute criminalizing obscenity is constitutional. In a brief dissent, Barkett, joined by Kogan, asserts: “A basic legal problem with the criminalization of obscenity is that it cannot be defined.… Thus, this crime, unlike all other crimes, depends, not on an objective definition obvious to all, but on the subjective definition, first, of those who happen to be enforcing the law at the time, and, second, of the particular jury or judges reviewing the case.” Enforcement of obscenity laws, she contends, “runs counter to every principle of notice and due process in our society.”

Barkett does not even cite, much less discuss, U.S. Supreme Court precedent upholding obscenity laws against her objections. Nor does she recognize that there are any number of criminal laws—criminal negligence, child neglect, the distinction between justifiable self-defense and unjustified homicide—whose definition or application is not more objectively “obvious to all” than for obscenity.

In a separate and lengthy dissent, Kogan, joined by Barkett, argues that a state constitutional provision setting forth the right of every person “to be let alone and free from government intrusion into his private life” “necessarily must include a right of discreet access to [obscene] entertainment, writings, and other such material if the state cannot show that those materials are actually harmful to specific persons or that they intrude upon the rights of others.”

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