For nearly one hundred years the federal government has had as one of its functions the suppression of mail trade in obscene and pornographic matter. The first federal enactment in this field provided that the mailing of an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, print, or other publication with knowledge of its nature was a misdemeanor. The present postal obscenity law' dates back to 1873 and is sometimes referred to as the Comstock Law because of the support given its passage by the notorious Anthony Comstock, agent for the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. While its original wording would seem to suggest that the statute was purely penal in nature, the Post Office Department inferred from it independent civil authority to restrain the mailing of obscene matter. Thus, the federal government, by virtue of the Comstock Law, utilizes each of the two recognized means for the suppression of objectionable printed matter-criminal punishment subsequent to publication and administrative restraint prior to publication or distribution.
Until quite recently little legal or lay attention was paid to the federal government's two-pronged attack on mail pornography and obscenity. However, two recent obscenity cases, one construing and upholding the validity of the Comstock Law's criminal provisions and the other questioning the Post Office's system of administrative restraint, have created much interest in this field. This article is devoted to an analysis of the present status of postal obscenity law and makes recommendations for legislative change where such action seems necessary or desirable.
Harvey L. Zuckman, Obscenity in the Mails, 33 S. CAL. L. REV. 171 (1960).