Civil Liberties

Hustler on the Hill

Free speech and free porn


In a memo issued in late February, the sergeant at arms of the Senate, William H. Pickle, informed legislators that "the Senate Post Office has delivered, and will continue to be delivering, copies of Hustler magazine that the publisher is mailing to all Congressional offices."

The nudie mag has been arriving on legislators' desks since at least 1983; publisher Larry Flynt recently told the Salt Lake City Tribune that he began sending members of Congress his journal of "political and social satire" because he "felt that they should be informed with what's going on in the rest of the world." More than 260 lawmakers initially attempted to halt delivery under a law allowing individuals to direct the U.S. Post Office to enjoin other postal customers from sending them "sexually provocative" material. But in 1986, in United States Postal Service v. Hustler, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the First Amendment right "to petition the government for redress of grievances" made that law inapplicable to elected officials in their offices.

Capitol Hill's most recent round of interest in Flynt's raunchy rag began last spring, when Charles Isom, a spokesperson for Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), noticed it among the piles of mail opened by staffers. Concluding that it was "unseemly" for House interns to have to deal with the magazine, Isom tried to have delivery stopped—to no avail.

According to Brinck Slattery, a former intern in the office of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), his boss's magazines were kept in an office cabinet until they could be disposed of discreetly—though when a new intern arrived, it was common for a few copies to go missing. The magazines might not be much use even to staffers who do want to read them, though. According to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, thanks to the irradiation process to which all congressional mail is now subject as a precaution against biological agents, the issues prematurely encounter the fate met by many a Hustler: The pages are all stuck together.