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Miller v California
Transcript of Miller v California
The previous standard for determining whether speech is obscene depended on whether it lacked any "redeeming social value."
In this case, the Supreme Court re-interpreted the First Amendment to only protect material that has "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value ." Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that the materials were obscene if:
1.) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex
2.) the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
3.) "the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value Constitutional Basis/Outcome Miller claimed that the arrest violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
The Supreme Court affirmed that obscene material does not have protection under the First Amendment. The Justices instead focused on another question: what qualifies as "obscene" material? Were Miller's brochures considered obscene, and therefore, unprotected by the First Amendment? Miller v California Background Majority Opinion & Dissenting Opinion Dissenting Opinion Justice Douglas dissented because he did not think Miller should be convicted for selling obscene material before it was determined to be obscene (since "obscenity"had just been redefined during this trial.) He believed that the standards were too vague/undefined to send Miller to jail for violating them. Also, he added that the First Amendment right to freedom of speech has no exceptions, especially not because the speech is offensive to some people. Additionally, he thought that the court had no Constitutional right to define "obscenity."
Justices Brennan, Stewart, and Marshall held that the California Penal Code 311.2 was "overbroad, and therefore invalid." Miller v California did not overturn another decision, and although it has been modified and expanded, it has not been overturned.
Is there room for another case to come up?
I think so- as society changes, so will the definition of "obscenity." It seems unlikely to remain static; imagine what was considered wrong, offensive, or obscene during the 1800s. In 1972, a man named Marvin Miller mailed unsolicited illustrated brochures for adult books to Californians. The brochures contained sexually explicit material.
He was convicted under the California Penal Code 311.2 for violating a California statute that included an "obscenity test" similar to the one established by Memoirs v Massachusetts
His case was affirmed on appeal, and the Supreme Court took up the case. Who gave the majority opinion?
-Justice Warren E. Burger, joined by White, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist Who gave the dissenting opinion?
-Justice Brennan, joined by Steward and Marshall Significance of the Case and Implications Miller v California established the current definition of "obscenity," which gave states greater freedom to prosecute based on it- after this case, many more prosecutions occurred, using Miller v California's obscenity test. The case enforced that whether material is considered obscene depends on the modern standards of average, local people, but reaffirmed that "obscenity" is not protected by the First Amendment right, freedom of speech. The Court also gave some examples of material that may be obscene. However, the emphasis on local standards in determining obscenity has also caused problems, such as some communities' laws being more lenient than others', making it difficult to convict people for it. Other cases Sources Roth v. United States
Memoirs v. Massachussetts
Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton:
A companion case in which Georgia attempted to ban the theatre's "obscene" films. The Supreme Court ruled that the films, by the Miller v. California test, were indeed obscene, and that Georgia had not violated the first amendment.