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Political Science | State and Local Government Law


Kay Wolsborn


In 1983, Catherine MacKinnon, introduced a new and innovative legal approach to the proliferating problem of pornography. Citing that the current court standard of judging sexually explicit material, obscenity doctrine, did not adequatley address women's issues, MacKinnon devised a city ordinance that would provide a legal definition of pornography concentrating on women's concerns. Ultimately, the civil ordinance would provide a means for women to present the injurious harms done to them by pornography and to seek a remedy in an open court of law. However, the city ordinance stirred controversy. At question was the ordinance's authority within the confines of the First Amendment. The spirited debates further divided liberal and conservative ideology and forged a distinct split in the feminist movement. In examining the ordinance, the federal judicial system ruled that MacKinnon's civil ordinance violated First Amendment freedoms as a means of thought control. It was declared unconstitutional. Although Catherine MacKinnon failed in that the ordinance did not meet the constitutional standard, she ultimately succeeded by contributing a new approach to the issue and by bringing the pornography issue to the forefront in the 1980s.