The U.S. Postal Service may not constitutionally prohibit Hustler magazine publisher Larry C. Flynt from sending copies of his sexually explicit publication to members of Congress, a federal judge ruled here yesterday.
U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt said, despite members' "understandable dislike for Hustler magazine," Flynt's First Amendment rights outweigh the members' rights "to be let alone."
Members of Congress, Pratt noted, "are not forced to read the magazine . . . . We cannot imagine that congressional offices all lack wastebaskets."
The case stemmed from Flynt's September 1983 decision to mail free copies of his magazine to members of Congress. Flynt said in a letter at the time that he was providing the subscriptions so that representatives and senators would be "well informed on all social issues and trends."
More than 260 complained to the Postal Service, which ordered Flynt to refrain from further mailings under a law that lets recipients seek a halt to mail they find "erotically arousing or sexually provocative."
Flynt continued sending the issues, 56 members of Congress protested, and the Postal Service eventually brought suit in federal court here to enforce its ban.
In his decision yesterday, Pratt essentially found that the House is not a home. Although the Postal Service may halt mailings to people's homes to shield minors and protect the recipients' privacy, Pratt said, members of Congress have more limited privacy rights.
"As elected representatives of the people, they cannot simply shield themselves from undesirable mail in the same manner as an ordinary addressee," Pratt said. He said that mail offers one of the few methods by which Flynt can effectively exercise his constitutional right to "petition government for redress of grievances."
Even if the restriction against further mailings were limited to copies of Hustler magazine, he said, "The expression of diverse views, including those presented in Hustler magazine, furthers vigorous public debate."