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Obituary: Edward De Grazia, Attorney Who Defended “Morally Defiant Artists”

I do have a cause, thought, it is obscenity. I’m for it!

Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Candide by Voltair, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, and many many more books have been banned at one time or another.  Edward de Grazia was an attorney who challenged such bans by advocating for artistic worth, civil liberty, and open mindedness.

Native Chicagoan, de Grazia died on April 11, 2013 at the age of 86. He taught at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law for 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, and he defeated government bans on sexually explicit books and movies. He described himself as defending “morally defiant artists” against “reactionary politicians and judges.” Some of the highlights from his career include challenging the seizure of a rare volume of Lysistrata* before it was destroyed by the Postal Service as well as overturning the ruling that Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer may not be published in the United States.

Arguably his most famous case was decided in 1964 when de Grazia represented the American publisher of Tropic of Cancer before the Supreme Court, challenging the lower court holding that Miller’s 1934 novel should be banned as obscene. In Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein, State Attorney, 378 US 577 (1964), the Supreme Court held that the book should be allowed despite the fact that some might find it obscene and, more importantly, that obscenity may be a protected speech.
*Lysistrata, written almost 2500 years ago by Aristophanes, is about Greek women fighting to stop a war between the Spartans and the Athenians by withholding sex. How topical!