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64 Federal Communications Law Journal 247 (2012)


More than fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its unanimous decision in Butler v. Michigan, the case remains a pivotal-if unheralded and perhaps underappreciated-victory for freedom of speech. This Article analyzes the Butler principle and demonstrates how courts repeatedly apply it across different media platforms and in a myriad of factually distinct contexts, ranging from prohibitions on the sale of sex toys to bans on beer bottles with offensive labels. The Article initially provides an in-depth look at Butler, drawing on literary scholarship, historical newspaper articles from the time of the case, and other sources. It then illustrates how the U.S. Supreme Court has deployed the Butler principle in more than a half-dozen cases in media ranging from print to telephony to the Internet. Finally, the Article explains the lasting impact of Butler and how it likely will remain important in the foreseeable future as a bulwark against censorial impulses to protect children from sexual content.