High court allows federal prisons to ban sexually explicit magazines

Ending term, justices deny a free-speech challenge

June 25, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court turned aside yesterday a constitutional challenge to a 3-year-old law designed to keep sexually explicit magazines out of federal prisons.

Acting on a variety of issues as the court finished its annual term, the justices offered no comment as they denied review of an appeal by three inmates, Playboy Enterprises Inc., the publisher of Penthouse and a publishing trade organization in a free-speech challenge to the ban.

In 1996, Congress, at the urging of a first-year congressman, Nevada Republican John Ensign, barred federal prisons from using any of their budgeted funds to distribute sex-oriented publications to prisoners.

The inmates and publishers contended in the unsuccessful appeal that the law was based on an unproved theory that exposure to sexually explicit materials would interfere with the rehabilitation of prisoners.

That argument was rejected in lower courts, and the justices declined to hear the case.

Recessing until Oct. 4, the court handed out these other orders: It refused to review the murder conviction and death sentence of a Pakistani native, Mir Aimal Kasi, for killing two Central Intelligence Agency employees in a shooting spree outside CIA headquarters in suburban Northern Virginia in January 1993. His execution in Virginia has not been scheduled.

Continuing its interest in states' rights issues, the court agreed to decide at its next term, in a Vermont case, whether states have constitutional immunity from lawsuits by private individuals who allege that a state agency filed false claims for money from a federal agency.

Because the dispute was settled out of court, the justices dismissed a significant test case from New York City that they had agreed to decide at their next term. At issue in the case was whether federal law guarantees legal aliens in the United States equal rights to get jobs, buy and sell property, get credit, and buy insurance.

The court turned down an appeal by a church in Far Rockaway, N.Y., seeking a right to rent a public school building for Sunday worship services -- a plea rejected in lower courts.

The justices also declined to hear appeals by four Arkansas cities seeking authority to stop people from putting leaflets on cars parked on city streets. The cities' efforts were ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.

Pub Date: 6/25/99

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