Cast Study of: Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of N. Y. State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105 (1991)


The parties involved were the Simon & Schuster, Inc. versus Members of N. Y. State Crime Victims Bd.

Simon & Schuster, Inc. was working with another Nicholas Pileggi to write the 1985 book “Wiseguy” on the life of Henry Hill, an American criminal, who was released from prison in the early ’90s. The book was then made into the 1990 film Goodfellas. Simon & Schuster, Inc., who were also in a book deal with Henry Hill to tell is life story in the book “Wiseguy,” started the lawsuit against the members of N. Y. State Crime Victims Bd. because New York has a law called the “Son of Sam,” named after David Berkowitz, an American serial killer who wrote and got published several books while he was in prison. The law states that any person accused or convicted of a crime in New York that is trying to profit from telling the stories of his crime in any way through any medium must, as the “Son of Sam” laws states, “submit a copy of such contract to the board and pay over to the board any moneys which would otherwise, by terms of such contract, be owing to the person so accused or convicted or his representatives.” N. Y. Exec. Law § 632-a (1) (McKinney 1982).

Simon & Schuster, Inc. said that the New York law violates the First Amendment and is an injunction barring the law’s enforcement. Simon & Schuster, Inc. wanted Henry Hill to received compensation for the work produced about him, but their main point is that the “Son of Sam” law violates the First Amendment. The District Court found the law consistent with the First Amendment, and the court of Appeals agreed, meaning that Simon & Schuster, Inc. lost at those two levels.


The question laid upon the Court is that did the Son of Sam law violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment?

Rule of Law:

The rule of law is that the First Amendment overrides New York’s “Son of Sam” law’s interest in singling out speech on a singular subject for a financial burden based on its content.

The majority opinion from the Court states that New York singled out speech on a singular subject for a financial burden which is placed on no other speech and no other income. The Members of New York State Crime Victims Board failed to explain, as Justice O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion, “that its regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and is narrowly drawn to achieve that end” (Arkansas Writers’ Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221, 231 (1987)). The Court also demined the “Son of Sam” law a subject to strict scrutiny.

The majority of decisions were 8 votes for Simon & Schuster, Inc. by Rehnquist, White, Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Souter; while 0 were against the Simon & Schuster, Inc. as Thomas abstained from voting.

Key Quote and Precedent:

“Whether the First Amendment “speaker” is considered to be Hill, whose income the New York law places in escrow because of the story he has told, or petitioner, which can publish books about crime with the assistance of only those criminals willing to forgo remuneration for at least five years, the law singles out speech on a particular subject for a financial burden that it places on no other speech and no other income and, thus, is presumptively inconsistent with the Amendment. Leathers v. Medlock, 499 U. S. 439, 447; Arkansas Writers’ Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U. S. 221, 230,” Justice O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion.


A 1st Amendment assessment from my COMS 400 Communication Law and Ethics class at Radford University. This is 2 of 10.

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