Citizens for Decency through Law

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Citizens for Decency through Law (CDL), one of the first major anti-pornography organizations in the United States, was founded in 1956 by lawyer and future financier Charles H. Keating Jr., after his daughter was sexually attacked in the 1950s. Believing that pornography causes violence and child abuse, CDL members have endeavored to stop the sale of pornographic material and close movie theaters that show sexually explicit movies by pressuring politicians and judges into enforcing obscenity laws.

CDL has provided legal advice to cities investigating dealers in sexually explicit motion pictures, magazines, and mail-order publications. CDL attorneys have concentrated on helping the police and prosecutors to prepare trials and appeals in obscenity cases, prepare testimony before local, state, and federal legislative committees, and draft model legislation. Between 1963 and 1981, CDL sponsored or wrote amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs for 27 obscenity cases reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of those cases, 37 percent had rulings favorable to CDL's views. In addition to providing direct, personal assistance in certain important cases, CDL's legal staff have prepared and mailed comprehensive analyses of developments in obscenity law to prosecutors around the United States. The group has also sought to educate the public on the extent of the traffic in obscene materials.

Keating, a staunch Roman Catholic who originally called his group Citizens for Decent Literature, is perhaps best known as a central figure in a scandal involving the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. Between 1989 and 1993, he was charged with and convicted on numerous civil racketeering and fraud charges and sentenced to prison. CDL as a national organization splintered after the scandal, but local chapters remain active in some cities and states.

Keating began his career as a prosecutor in Cincinnati—a conservative city that now prides itself on being a national center for anti-pornography efforts—and first sought to rid newsstands of sexually explicit materials in the 1950s when he prosecuted a local candy store accused of selling obscene publications. By 1969, his zealous battles against pornography had earned him an appointment by richard m. nixon to the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. In 1970, Keating filed a lawsuit that delayed release of a report by the commission that recommended repeal of all adult censorship laws.

Over the years, CDL battled foes ranging from Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, to Pacific Bell, which allowed indiscriminate access to dial-a-porn messages. A long-running skirmish in the 1980s involved an adult movie theater in an Orange County, California, shopping center that Lincoln Savings and Loan sued after the city of Santa Ana failed to close the theater. Lincoln's lawsuit charged that the theater, operated by Mitchell Brothers, attracted "criminal elements, organized crime and persons who practice sexual deviations, such as homosexuals, lesbians, voyeurs, prostitutes, pedophiles, sadists, masochists, rapists, etc., into the area." (After the Lincoln bank failed, the federal government took over the institution, and the lawsuit was dropped.)

During the administrations of Presidents ronald reagan and george herbert walker bush lawyers recruited from CDL took part in a controversial and lengthy prosecution of businesses involved with obscene materials. In November 1993, the u.s. justice department dropped this prosecution tactic, which involved threatening businesses with indictments in numerous jurisdictions in order to extract agreements to stop distribution of the materials. The theory behind the strategy was that the mere expense of defending themselves in so many places would encourage plea bargains by the businesses. Among the targets of these prosecutions was Adam and Eve, a large distributor of sexually explicit films, magazines, and books. A number of federal judges and civil liberties organizations denounced the multidistrict tactic as a form of harassment, sweeping in nonobscene materials protected by the first amendment in addition to unprotected obscenity.

CDL often worked with other organizations, including the National Religious Alliance against Pornography; Morality in Media; the Moral Majority; Citizens against Pornography; the American Family Association; and the National Federation for Decency. It has also been aligned with smaller compatriot groups such as Citizens for Legislation against Decadence in Portland, Oregon; Women against Pornography in New York; Feminists against Pornography in Chicago and in Washington, D.C.; and the feminist-sponsored Pornography Resource Center in Minneapolis. CDL opponents include the american civil liberties union and other civil liberties organizations as well as publishers of pornography, such as Oui magazine, which in 1975 dubbed Keating the number one enemy of pornography.

further readings

"Interest Group Litigation During the Rehnquist Era." 1993. Journal of Law and Politics (summer).

"The Public Interest and the Constitutionality of Private Prosecutors." 1994. Arkansas Law Review 47.