Stanley Fleishman (1920–1999) was a leading First Amendment attorney who appeared before the Supreme Court to argue several obscenity cases. He managed to carve out a successful legal career despite the crippling effects of polio that left him disabled from an early age.
Fleishman reached the highest echelons of his profession, arguing cases before the Supreme Court while supported by his crutches.
Born in the Bronx in New York City, Fleishman graduated from Columbia Law School in 1944 and then moved to Los Angeles two years later.
Stanley argued many First Amendment obscenity cases before the Supreme Court
Among the many important First Amendment cases he argued before the high court were Alberts v. California (1957), the companion case to Roth v. United States (1957); Smith v. California (1959); A Quantity of Books v. Kansas (1964); United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs (1971); Blount v. Rizzi (1971); Kaplan v. California (1973); Hamling v. United States (1974); Hicks v. Miranda (1975); and United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc. (1994).
His most important First Amendment case was arguably Smith v. California, which established that booksellers could not be held strictly liable for the contents of every book on their shelves. Writing for the Court, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. reasoned that if the Court imposed such a requirement, then “the bookseller’s burden would become the public’s burden, for by restricting him the public access to reading matter would be restricted.”
Fleishman also took part in the California Supreme Court decision Zeitlin v. Arnebergh (1963), which determined that Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer was not obscene under California law.
And he represented the Pussycat Theatre, which was charged with obscenity for showing the film Deep Throat. For his commitment to the First Amendment, Fleishman received the William O. Douglas Memorial Award and the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Fleishman died at age 79.
David L. Hudson, Jr. is a law professor at Belmont who publishes widely on First Amendment topics. He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment entitled Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (Now You Know Media, 2018). He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded (ABC-CLIO, 2017). This article was originally published in 2009.