UPDATE: High Court won’t hear case on prisoner pornography
In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in a case involving a First Amendment challenge to a federal law that restricts the distribution of sexually explicit publications to federal prisoners.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington (D.C. Cir.) in September 1998 upheld the constitutionality of the “Ensign Amendment,” a 1997 law barring federal prisoners from purchasing sexually explicit publications. The appellate court reversed a ruling by a federal district court that barred enforcement of the law as a violation of the First Amendment rights of the prisoners and the publishers. The law prohibits the federal Bureau of Prisons from distributing or otherwise making available to prisoners “any commercially published information or material” that is “sexually explicit” or “features nudity” in any form from any sender. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Following passage of the act and the implementation of rules to enforce it by the federal Bureau of Prisons, three prisoners filed separate suits in federal District Court in Washington, D.C., against the Bureau of Prisons. The publishers and distributors of Playboy, Penthouse and other similar magazines also filed suit, and the court consolidated all the cases. The inmates and the publishers claimed that their First Amendment rights were being violated by enforcement of the prohibition. (Amatel v. Reno; Media Counsel: Marjorie Lynn Rifkin, Washington, D.C.)