Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82 (1971), is one of a series of cases that the Supreme Court decided in conjunction with Younger v. Harris. Perez arose from district court decisions granting declaratory and injunctive relief against an obscenity proceeding.
Ledesma charged for displaying obscene material
August Ledesma and others displayed allegedly obscene material for sale and were charged under a Louisiana statute and parish ordinance. A district court panel upheld the state statute but expressed that the parish ordinance was probably invalid. However, the court did issue a suppression order prohibiting the allegedly obscene material from being used as evidence. A single federal judge later struck down the parish ordinance.
Court decided district court had interefered with state prosecution
The decision by Justice Hugo L. Black decided that the suppression had improperly interfered with a state criminal prosecution. Consistent with the other decisions issued the same day, Black decided that such actions were only appropriate “in cases of proven harassment or prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction and perhaps in other extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be shown.” Black denied that the Court had the power to review one of the actions taken by a single district judge invalidating a local ordinance.
Justice William O. Douglas wrote a partial dissent agreeing that the Court had no jurisdiction over part of this litigation but arguing that it should have affirmed the lower court actions in respect to the rest. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote a partial concurrence and a partial dissent, joined by Byron R. White and Thurgood Marshall, in which he would have upheld the declaratory judgment against the constitutionality of the local ordinance.
John Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.