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High Court Rejects Sheriff’s Bid to Reinstate Obscenity Ruling

December 7, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today steered clear of a Florida obscenity flap over a rap album by the group 2 Live Crew.

The court, without comment, rejected a sheriff’s bid to reinstate a ruling that the album ″As Nasty as They Wanna Be″ is obscene.

U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez Jr. of Fort Lauderdale declared the album’s lyrics obscene in June 1990, saying its numerous sexual references made it ″an appeal to dirty thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind.″

The album contains graphic sexual descriptions, including references to oral and anal sex.

Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro had warned record stores not to sell the album. Four days after Gonzalez’s ruling, Navarro arrested three members of 2 Live Crew on obscenity charges for giving an adults-only performance at a local nightclub. The group members later were acquitted.

In his ruling, Gonzalez noted that the Constitution’s First Amendment does not allow a person to shout ″fire″ in a crowded theater. ″Today, this court decides whether the First Amendment absolutely permits one to yell another ‘F’ word anywhere in the community,″ he wrote.

The Constitution’s First Amendment protects freedom of speech.

To be legally obscene and unworthy of such protection, a work must meet a three-part test:

-The average person would find it appealing to prurient interest.

-It describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way.

-It lacks serious artistic value.

The rappers and their recording company, Luke Records, called two music critics and a political scientist to testify that the lyrics expressed serious musical and literary themes reflecting the culture of poor, inner-city blacks.

Navarro called no expert witnesses, but relied on the lyrics themselves and his cross-examination of the group’s witnesses.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Gonzalez’s ruling. The appeals court said Navarro had not proved the album is obscene.

″We reject the argument that simply by listening to this musical work, the judge could determine that it had no serious artistic value,″ the appeals court said.

In the appeal acted on today, Navarro argued, ″The best evidence of obscenity is the material itself, not an expert’s testimony.″

But 2 Live Crew’s attorneys said the appeals court simply ruled that a judge could not substitute his or her own artistic judgments for reasonable expert testimony.

The case is Navarro vs. Luke Records, 92-672.

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