Professor Skover Honored by ACLU

Seattle University Professor David Skover to Receive Award from the American Civil Liberties Union

October 21, 2004 Doug Honig, ACLU
(206) 624.2184

The ACLU of Washington Board of Directors has named Seattle University Law Professor David Skover recipient of the 2004 Civil Libertarian Award. The award will be presented at the ACLU’s Bill of Rights Celebration Dinner on Saturday, October 23 at the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle. Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office, is the featured speaker.

The Civil Libertarian Award honors people who have made recent outstanding contributions to civil liberties in Washington. Thanks in great part to the work of Seattle University Law School Professor David Skover, New York Governor George Pataki in 2003 pardoned ground-breaking comedian Lenny Bruce for a 1964 obscenity conviction. Skover, along with Ronald Collins, is co-author of The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of An American Icon (Sourcebooks, 2002). The book made an important contribution to our cultural understanding of First Amendment thought, as well as the man who endured political persecution at the hands of overzealous authorities. Their years of research on Bruce led Skover and Collins to come forward with a petition for the pardon.

Skover undertook to write a book about Bruce at the suggestion of National ACLU president Nadine Strossen. Bruce had been subjected to five years of censorship, arrests, obscenity trials, convictions, and appeals as prosecutors sought to bust him for “word crimes.” Though none of these trials set a legal precedent per se, they did end the prosecution of comedians and others for their use of obscene words. In their evenhanded book, Skover and Collins illustrate how Bruce was a leader of a social revolution that diminished the role of American church and state as moral arbiters, rather than simply the vulgar malcontent that prosecutors claimed.

Reviewers around the country have pointed to the book's significance. As the Baltimore Sun said, “[Bruce's] impact on the law, public vocabulary and some important social attitudes was immense. … Now, finally, comes a work that puts it all together.”