Study Guide

Miller v. California: The Current Definition of Obscenity

Miller v. California: The Current Definition of Obscenity

  • 1973 Supreme Court case established new standard for obscenity cases
  • For speech to be banned as obscene, it had to have no "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value"
  • Local judges and juries could apply local community standards; the definition of obscenity in Salt Lake City could be different than in New York
  • 1969 case Stanley v. Georgia established individuals' right to possess pornography inside their homes

The new definition held that pornographic works "taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex . . . portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and . . . as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Among the more important details within this ruling was that the judge and jury could apply local community standards in applying these criteria. Whether a film aimed at a person's prurient instincts and whether sex was portrayed in an offensive way could be answered by applying local norms, not those of some "hypothetical national standard." But because the ruling rested on the combining of two rights—privacy and expression—it did not extend to the commercial production or distribution of pornography. Despite the ruling in Stanley these remain outside the realm of First Amendment protection.