The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Thursday overturned a 1990 federal ruling that declared obscene a sexually explicit album by the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew.
According to the appellate court, no evidence was presented in the June, 1990, Ft. Lauderdale trial to prove that the group's controversial "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" album is without serious artistic value, an obscenity definition previously adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Group leader Luther Campbell hailed the ruling Thursday.
"What this does is let black folks know that the First Amendment really does apply to us," said Campbell, who claims to have spent more than $1 million in legal fees fighting what he calls a court battle against a racially tinged decision. "It says we can speak our minds the same way that white people do. This isn't just a victory for 2 Live Crew. The entire music industry won big on this one."
The decision reverses federal Judge Jose Gonzalez's June 6 ruling, which made it illegal for retailers in the southern Florida counties of Broward, Dade and Palm Beach to sell "Nasty." That ruling triggered a national debate on the legal limits of artistic expression in pop music.
The 2-million-selling album, filled with graphic descriptions of sex acts, has been criticized repeatedly by church, feminist and law enforcement organizations.
A jury acquitted 2 Live Crew of obscenity charges for performing the songs in a concert in 1990, but a jury in a separate case convicted Charles Freeman, a Ft. Lauderdale record store owner, for selling a copy of the "Nasty" album to an adult undercover police detective. He was fined $1,000 but appealed. Ironically, a state circuit judge affirmed Freeman's obscenity conviction in an appeal Wednesday in Ft. Lauderdale. That case will be appealed again, Freeman's attorney said.
2 Live Crew filed suit in U.S. District Court on March 16, 1990, in Ft. Lauderdale, seeking to declare the album not obscene and to stop Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro from arresting those who sold the record to adults.
Navarro could not be reached for comment, but John Jolley, his attorney, said Thursday that there is a "significant" possibility that the Supreme Court will be asked to review the case.
Anti-pornography crusader Jack Thompson, the Coral Gables attorney who initiated the 2 Live Crew saga, said he was "extremely disappointed."