High court refuses appeal in child pornography case

January 18, 1995|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court put an end yesterday to a prolonged political headache for the Clinton administration over the issue of child pornography.

In a brief order, the court refused to hear a Philadelphia printer's appeal to overturn his conviction for a mail-order purchase of videotapes showing young girls fully clothed but in suggestive poses.

The Clinton administration had come to the aid of Stephen A. Knox, then a student in State College, Pa., in 1993, generally supporting his plea that the child pornography law should not go as far as a lower federal court said it did.

Sharply rebuked by Congress, by conservative activists and even by the president himself, the Justice Department switched sides in the dispute in November and urged the court not to hear Knox's new appeal. More than 230 members of the House and Senate also opposed his second plea to the justices.

Yesterday, offering no explanation or comment, the court voted to leave intact Knox's conviction and five-year prison sentence. He had argued that he was the only person in America ever prosecuted for receiving pictures of minors whose genital areas were fully covered by clothing.

The videotapes he bought from a French company showed girls ages 10 to 17 dressed in bathing suits, leotards, underwear or similar clothing. They were in provocative poses, the camera zooming in on their genital areas, covered by clothing.

When Knox first appealed to the Supreme Court, the Bush administration challenged his claim that the federal law against child pornography had been interpreted too broadly in his case.

When the Clinton administration took office, it said that the law at least required that a child's sexual organs be visible through the clothing. It was not enough, the new administration told the court, to have a camera focus on the private areas.

After the case went back to a lower court, Knox's conviction again was upheld in a ruling that found that neither nudity nor visible depictions of a child's genital area were required for a violation of the law.

In the meantime, Congress wrote into the new federal crime law a repudiation of the Clinton administration's former view of the law's scope. With Mr. Clinton demanding that the Justice Department take firmer action against child pornography, the Justice Department backed the tougher interpretation of the law.

In a second significant action yesterday, the Supreme Court rebuffed a Holocaust survivor's bid to sue the German government for actions by the Nazis during World War II in taking him captive and forcing him into slave labor at concentration camps.

Hugo Princz of Highland Park, N.J., an American Jew who lived with his family in what is now Slovakia in 1942, was the only survivor of Nazi atrocities against the family. He sued the German government for $17 million in damages in a U.S. federal court. A judge here allowed that lawsuit despite a claim by Germany that it was immune to such suits.

A federal appeals court ruled in July that the German government could not be sued in an American court for Nazi atrocities. Mr. Princz then took his plea to the Supreme Court, and the justices turned it aside yesterday in a brief order.

Mr. Princz's lawyer is now trying to switch his suit in federal court here to a claim against the companies that succeeded the two German companies where he was forced to work as a prisoner: the I.G. Farben chemical company and the Messerschmidt airplane factory.

His attorney, Steve Perles, said yesterday that efforts also will be made in Congress to change federal law so that Germany could be sued in this country for Nazi war crimes.

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