Miller v. California, 413 U.S.15; 93 S. Ct. 2607; 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973)

Miller v. California, 413 U.S.15; 93 S. Ct. 2607; 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973)

Facts—California applied its criminal statutes to sexually explicit materials sent through the mails to persons who did not request them.

Question—May a state enforce obscenity statutes against publications that offend local community standards as to what is prurient?


ReasonsC.J. Burger (5–4). States may regulate works that depict or describe sexual conduct, but such legislation must be carefully limited. The basic guidelines must be (a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find the work as a whole appealing to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Court rejects the “utterly without redeeming social value” test. Local standards rather than a national definition of obscenity may be used.

J. Douglas and J. Brennan authored dissents questioning whether there should be an obscenity exception to the First Amendment and arguing that the revised standards adopted by the Court were still overly broad and risked suppressing protected speech. Significantly, J. Brennan, the author of the Roth test, was now in the minority.

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