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  • December 05, 2022 8:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Many laws restricting access to materials tend to focus on materials available in K-12 schools, or exposure of obscene materials to minors. The First Amendmentrights of minors, especially in school settings, are not as broad as those of adults. Some state laws extend to universities, and public libraries and some laws make it a criminal offense to provide access to materials deemed obscene or perverse.

    Since 2021 PEN America has tracked the introduction of 185 education focused bills in 41 states. Nineteen have become law in 15 states. Many of these laws were written in a very similar manner because they were model legislation provided to legislators. Much of the news of state bans that occurred this summer passed by North Dakota since the state legislature was not meeting. The 2023 session started on January 3rd, 2023. It is unknown if a similarly restrictive bill will be introduced. There is some common language with these bills, the terms and phrases that are appearing in these bills include “divisive concept,” and teaching “certain concepts.”

    Below is some background on the history of censorship in the United States:

    North Dakota defines obscene as:

    a. Taken as a whole, the average person, applying contemporary North Dakota standards, would find predominantly appeals to a prurient interest;

    b. Depicts or describes in a patently offensive manner sexual conduct, whether normal or perverted; and

    c. Taken as a whole, the reasonable person would find lacking in serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

    Whether material or a performance is obscene must be judged with reference to ordinary adults, unless it appears from the character of the material or the circumstances of its dissemination that the material or performance is designed for minors or other specially susceptible audience, in which case the material or performance must be judged with reference to that type of audience. Century Code 12.1-27.1-01.

    Federal Laws

    The primary law used to ban books was the Comstock Laws, the first of which was passed on March 3, 1873, as the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use. This prohibited the use of the U.S. Postal service to send obscene content including personal letters. Another law in 1909 prohibited the use of private carriers such as railroad from transporting these materials. Section 305 (a) of the Tariff Act of 1922 forbade the importation of any contraceptive information or means. Those found guilty of violating the act could be fined up to " $5,000, (Equivalent of $87,655.62 in 2022) or by imprisonment at hard labor for not more than ten years, or both."

    Comstock laws were rendered moot by by Supreme Court decisions Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird(1972).

    Supreme Court

    The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and press but the Supreme Court has established guidelines, or tests, for defining what constitutes protected and unprotected speech. Courts have ruled that obscenity and materials encouraging the overthrowing of the government is not protected.

    Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court has applied the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court ruled government could suppress publications advocating to “overthrow and destroy organized parliamentary government”

    Roth v. United States (1957). Roth was charged with sending obscene materials through the mail. This case resulted in a series of criteria by which to judge a work based on contemporary community standards and if a work appealed to a “prurient interest in sex, and whether the material was utterly without redeeming social value.” Some obscenity charge against Roth, who had been publishing a magazine called American Aphrodite, were upheld.

    Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) Could the state of Ohio ban the showing of Louis Malle’s film The Lovers? Manager of an art theater, Nico Jacogellis was convicted of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film in 1964. He appealed and the Supreme Court found the work was not obscene, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”- Justice Potter Stewart

    Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966), Fanny Hill a novel by John Cleland and first published in 1748, was outlaws in Massachusetts in 1821. The publisher, Peter Holmes, was convicted for printing a lewd and obscene novel. The judge called him "a scandalous and evil disposed person." In 1963 Putnam republished the book with a different title leading to the arrest of a book seller and leading to Memoirs V. Massachusetts which found the book to not be obscene. A plurality of the Court, in an opinion by Justice Brennan, articulated a new three-part test:

    “(a) the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to a prurient interest in sex;

    (b) the material is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters; and

    (c) the material is utterly without redeeming social value.”

    Miller v. California (1973), Believing that the previous criteria was too ridged this court adopted a test that elaborated on the standards established in Roth v. United States. Miller defines obscenity by outlining three conditions for jurors to consider:

    “(a) whether the ‘average person, applying contemporary community standards,’ would find that the work taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest;

    (b) whether the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and

    (c) whether the work taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

    The court ruled that obscene material was not protected by the First Amendment. The charges against Marvin Miller (aka King of Smut) were not overturned.


  • August 17, 2022 3:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Congressional Hearings: What are they?

    By Susanne Caro, North Dakota State University, TECHSERT/GODORT

    “A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest.”

    -Government Publishing Office.

    Hearings can be a useful source of information with testimony by experts, personal accounts, and reports of findings.

    What can a committee do?

    A committee can investigate, can invite specialists or subpoena witnesses. “Refusal to cooperate with a congressional subpoena can result in charges of contempt of Congress, which could result in a prison term” (whitehouse.gov) A contempt charge must be considered and voted on by a chamber (House or Senate), but most charges are dropped because documents or testimony are provided.

    People who have been held in contempt include: Henry Kissinger (1975), Rita Lavelle (1983, EPA official sentenced to 6 months in prison and fined $10,000), and Attorney General Janet Reno (1998). Although Congress can investigate just about any subject, including those involving criminal behavior, it cannot initiate criminal prosecution. Such matters can be referred to the Department of Justice for investigation

    Hearing Highlights:

    ·The first congressional investigative hearing was held in Philadelphia in 1792 to investigate General St. Clair's 1792 defeat by Miami, Shawnee, Buckongahela, and Delaware peoples at the Battle of the Wabash.

    -In 1938, the Red Scare led to the creation of a special investigative committee: House Un-American Activities Committee. “Committee members branded witnesses as “red” if they refused to comply or hesitated in answering committee questions.” [Source: Background Essay, Truman Presidential Museum and Library] The committee was made a standing committee in 1945 and was eliminated in 1975.

    ·In 2008, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released the Mitchell Report: The Legal Use of Steroids in Major League Baseball. The report named 89 major league players believed to have used steroids.

    ·In 2022, a hearing on Department of Defense Appropriations asked about UFOs and led to the release of a report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. 

    State Legislative Hearings:

    State legislatures also hold hearings. You can find information on hearings and watch recorded hearings at www.ndlegis.gov If you are interested in using Congressional hearing for research, the Library of Congress has guides to assist you:

    Published Hearings - How to locate a published congressional hearing: a beginner's guide

    Unpublished Hearings - How to locate an unpublished congressional hearing: a beginner's guide

    You can hearings at govinfo.gov

    UNTIL NEXT TIME!

  • May 26, 2022 9:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Using Government Documents and Open Resources to Understand the Conflict in Ukraine

    By Brian Garrison, University of North Dakota, TECHSERT/GODORT


    Although attention by the news on Ukraine has fluctuated after the sustained attention during the first month of the conflict, the battle for Ukraine’s sovereignty still rages. Here, we have gathered a mixture of government documents and free resources that detail Ukraine’s history and the conflict....

    A good starting place to learn the basic facts about Ukraine - or most countries for that matter - is the CIA World Factbook. This online resource is one of the most used government publications. The database, “produced for US policymakers and coordinated throughout the US Intelligence Community, presents the basic realities about the world in which we live.” Through browsing the CIA World Factbook you can learn many of the basic statistics along various dimensions that enable you to see Ukraine’s uniqueness.

    The United States Department of State keeps a news feed and several informational websites updated to let the American public know how the office of the United States’ chief diplomat is framing the recent European conflict.

    The State Department’s Office of the Historian produced a Guide to Countries. Among them, the official recognition of Ukraine as a country by the United States is recorded in A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Ukraine.

    In 1997, the US Census produced a report detailing how the population of Ukraine self-identified based upon how they reported the identity of their children at birth. The report outlines uncertainty about the future of Ukraine but explains that trends indicate the population moving toward “a stronger attachment to Ukraine.”

    The Congressional Research Service authors well-researched reports for members of congress to easily understand and digest issues. By doing a simple search for Ukraine, you may find a series of relevant reports detailing the last several months and years of tension building. The service adds a clock iconto many reports with historical versions that may be compared to understand how an issue has developed over a period of months or even days.

    Maps offer a means of understanding all the ways cartographers have represented the geography of the region through time. The David Rumsey Georeferencer enables users to zoom in or out on any area of the world and overlay maps onto the globe at whatever scale a map is available. From continents to cities, one can explore Ukraine in many incarnations. The Library of Congress also offers a wealth of maps in their collections.

    Finally, several countries have asserted their intentions to join NATO because of the conflict. NATO has two research guides that detail NATO-Ukraine relations and the recent invasion by Russia.


  • March 08, 2022 12:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Keeping Up With What To Keep

    By Susanne Caro, North Dakota State University / TECHSERT/GODORT Committee Chair

    We love when government documents are in the news! It provides an opportunity to provide more information on subjects that may raise questions such as

    RECORDS & What belongs to someone holding a government office...

    In North Dakota, records are defined as a “document, book, paper, photograph, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business.” 

    Some are of historic value, while others are not and there are rules on what is archived, recycled, or shredded and recycled. Knowing if a record is saved and for how long can be helpful when researching an agency or event. For example, communications with the Governor's office are retained by that office for four years before transferal to the North Dakota State Historical Society and the State Archivist. Each level of government should have a guide that instructs agencies on how to handle their records.

    At the Federal level, there is the General Records Schedule that provides information for agencies about what must be maintained and for how long and the applicable laws and issues like declassification. Presidential Papers fall into two categories: publications for the public and records. Public papers include memoranda, notices, determinations, letters, messages, and orders which since 1957 have been published in the Federal Register.

    The main law regarding presidential records is The Presidential Records Act(PRA) of 1978 which changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public and the management of those records to the National Archives. Presidential records are defined as “documentary materials, or any reasonably segregable portion thereof, created or received by the President, the President’s immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise and assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.” [44 U.S.C. § 2201(2)].”

    Giving and receiving diplomatic gifts has been a long tradition. It even has its own special department - the Diplomatic Gifts Unit of the Department of State receives all diplomatic gifts on behalf of White House. Department of State officials keep records of the items which are sent to the National Archives or housed in a specific department (unless they are consumable). This department also assists in the selection of gifts to other counties. Lists of items received and their value can be found in the Federal Register. If interested in recent-ish gifts... 2019 included a bench carved in the shape of a jaguar, pearl earrings, Rolex watches, and a gift card. There is an option for individuals to reimburse the government if there is a gift they wish to keep, but otherwise these items are property of the government. The President and Vice President may keep items valued under $350 dollars.

    Gifts can also cause some confusion when it is unclear if the gift is to the governor personally or to the state. Moon rocks are a great example of what can happen if items are not tracked!! In 1976, President Nixon gifted a moon rock to each state. In Arkansas, the rock was packed up with other items from then Governor Clinton’s office and was not found and returned to the state until 2011. For many years, former Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof had the state’s moonrock in his home and in West Virginia, one ended up in the dental office of the brother of a former business partner of Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr.

    After reading that, you may worry about North Dakota’s Moon rocks - Don't! According to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, “Until 1982, North Dakota's lunar gifts were displayed in the Governor's office before being transferred to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.” They may not be currently on display, but at least we know where they are!


  • December 15, 2021 4:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    *Note: For this issue only, all links in the image below cannot be followed. If you would like to follow a link, please see the pdf version of the December issue.


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