Study Guide

Free Speech - Ginzburg v. United States: "Pandering" = Pornography

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Ginzburg v. United States: "Pandering" = Pornography

  • In 1965 decision, court ruled that salacious advertisements for erotic materials could be regulated as appealing to prurient interests
  • Seemed to indicate a more conservative turn in Supreme Court obscenity cases

But while the Court took a fairly tolerant and expansive view of obscenity in these cases, it adopted a different stance in Ginzburg v. United States (1965). Ralph Ginzburg was arrested for pandering—that is, advertising erotic materials, including The Housewife's Handbook on Selective Promiscuity—through the mail using suggestive language. The question before the Court was whether this too fell outside the protection of the First Amendment. Even though the advertisements themselves may not meet the standard of obscenity established in Roth, could they be banned because they pandered—that is, they attempted to exploit the prurient instincts of the average person?

The Court said yes. Even though the advertisements themselves were not pornographic per se—that is, they contained no depictions of sex and they used no obscene words—they could be legitimately evaluated by the court "against a background of commercial exploitation of erotica solely for the sake of their prurient appeal." In other words, within this broader context, the advertisement took on an obscene character, because, like pornographic materials per se, they highlighted "the sexually provocative aspects" of the material for sale "in order to catch the salaciously disposed."blank">Miller v. California, in which the Court, after much deliberation and hours in the film room, unveiled a revised definition of pornography.

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