Fans of late-1980s hip-hop sensation 2 Live Crew may remember a high-profile court case stemming from complaints that the group's lyrics were obscene. (The First Read team can't provide examples from the now-infamous album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be. This is, after all, a family website.)
But -- for anyone who likes 1st Amendment law, Supreme Court nominations, and DJ Mr. Mixx, you're in for a treat.
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan had a cameo role in that 1990 obscenity case; as a young lawyer in private practice, she co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America, which argued that the group did not, in fact, appeal to the "prurient interest." (A district judge had earlier ruled the album obscene, and 2 Live Crew appealed the decision.)
In the brief, Kagan and her team argued that the legal definition of obscenity did not apply to the album because it did not "physically excite anyone who hears it, much less arouse a shameful and morbid sexual response." Moreover, according to the brief's argument, "the Nasty recording, again considered in its entirety, has serious value."
"Official censorship, however popular, is antithetical to the 1st Amendment - and no less so when 'rap' music is involved," the brief concluded.
That argument seems to have worked. In 1992, an appeals court overturned the district court's obscenity ruling.