UnitedStates is a landmark case that changed the way courts rule on obscenity cases.It was used as precedence in other cases to follow. Four of the court rulingsthat Roth v. United States was cited in are Memoirs v. Massachusetts, Miller v.
California, Ginzburg v. United States, and New York v. Ferber.
Next, the roleof obscenity will be discussed in the recent cases stated above. Roth v. UnitedStates is a landmark case that changed the constitutional test for determiningwhat is defined as obscene material that is protected or unprotected by theFirst Amendment. Roth, the defendant was operating a book-selling business inNew York. He was mailing out pamphlets that had obscene material on them. Hewas violating the federal obscenity statute 18 U.
S.C. Section 1461 thatprohibited the mailing of “every obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy book,pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of anindecent character.
” Roth appealed his conviction on the grounds that statute18 U.S.C. Section 1461 violated the First Amendment. The U.S.
Supreme Courtgranted certiorari. The issue that needed to be determined during this case waswhether the statute was a violation of the First Amendment due to a violationof freedom of expression. In a 6-to-3decision made by the court, it was determined that this statute does notviolate the First Amendment. The obscenity that Roth presented was not withinthe area protected by free speech or press. The First Amendment was not meantto protect all expression. If material is “utterly without redeeming socialimportance,” it cannot be protected. Ideas about sex are typically protected by theFirst Amendment because sex is not obscene, but if it is liked by prurientinterest, it is not protected. The court decided to make a new test forobscenity based on this case.
The Roth test must show that material is anunhealthy image of sex, must be offensive by community standards, and must haveutterly not redeeming quality for social purpose (Roth v. United States). Theruling for this case paved the way for the all similar cases including Memoirsv. Massachusetts, which used the Roth test to determine the case ruling. In Memoirs v.Massachusetts, a man named John Cleland wrote a book called Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill).It was originally published in 1750, and it was about the sexual exploits of a15-year-old girl who worked in prostitution in England. When it was picking upattention in the United States, Massachusetts Attorney General decided to bringa civil equity suit against the book to have it declared obscene, and have allpublication of the book stopped in the state of Massachusetts.
The court ruledthat the book was obscene, and was not protected against the First Amendment,and the Massachusetts Supreme Court agreed.The case wasappealed to the United States Supreme Court, where they reversed the ruling ofthe Massachusetts Supreme Court by using the Roth test determined in thelandmark case Roth v. United States. The material must have “the dominant themeof the material taken as a whole appeals to a prurient interest in sex; , thematerial is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary communitystandards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters, andthe material is utterly without redeeming social value. Justice Brennan, theman that presided over this case held that the book was not obscene because itdid have some social value, so it is protected by the First Amendment.
It was demandedhighly by colleges, universities, and libraries around the U.S. when it wasarriving, so it has value in the literary world. The Roth test was able to beapplied in Memoirs v. Massachusetts, but it overruled seven years later whenMiller v. California, another crucial obscenity case was filed. In 1973, aman named Miller was selling obscene books and was advertising them by using amass-mailing campaign.
The brochures depicted sexual acts to unwillingrecipient, and people began to complain. Under a California criminal statuteMiller was convicted of the distribution of obscene materials by the statecourt.Thequestion that had to be asked during the case was is the distribution ofobscene materials by mass-mail protected by the First Amendment. The court held that the distribution ofobscene materials is not protected by the First Amendment. The Court used theRoth test so they had to test “whether the average person, applying contemporarycommunity standards would find that the work taken as a whole, appeals to theprurient interest.” (Roth v.
United States). The court decided that thematerial must at least have literary, artistic, political, or scientific valueto have protection using the First Amendment. The brochures that Miller wasselling did not have any societal value, so it is not protected. Miller v.California brought on a new test to prove obscenity. The works must show notonly “whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary communitystandards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurientinterest, but whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensiveway, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, andwhether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic,political, or scientific value (Miller v. California).
“Ginzburg v. UnitedStates a man named Ralph Ginzburg was charged with violating a federalobscenity statute. Ginzburg was charged with advertising erotic materialsthrough the mail. The advertisements informed people of where and howindividuals can purchase obscene publications. Since the material he wassending out was not obscene on its own he appealed the conviction on thegrounds that it is unconstitutional. The Third Circuit Court of Appels ruled infavor of the lower court’s finding, The Supreme Court then decided to grandGinzberg certiorari, and reviewed his case.
The Supreme Courthad to decide if even though the advertisements were not explicit on their ownthey could be banned because they attempted to exploit prurient interests ofthe average person. The court decided that yes, they can be banned. Since theadvertisements were mailed to the public it violates the federal obscenitystatute if they advertise the obscene materials. There may not have beenobscene materials on the advertisements they were considered by the court as”against a background of commercial exploitation of erotica solely for the sakeof their prurient appeal (Ginzburg v. United States).” The ad was implyingsexually explicit and obscene materials, and trying to awake appeal to some, soit can be found as obscene. Roth v. United States was applied to this casebecause in the case it also ruled that “obscene material may includeconsideration of manner in which material is presented and disseminated (Rothv.
United States).” The Roth test was able to be used because of the subject ofpandering, or the advertising of obscene materials to try to get individualsinterested in material that is for sale. In New York v.Ferber, the defendant, Ferber, owned an adult bookstore in New York.
Ferber wasarrested for selling two films that portrayed boy who were minors masturbatingto an undercover police officer. He was convicted of violating a criminalstature that prohibits people form knowingly promoting sexual performances bychildren under the age of 16 by distributing material shown in performances(New York v. Ferber).” The appellate court agreed with the conviction, but theNew York Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. They declared that it was aviolation of Ferber’s First Amendment rights. The case eventually was grantedcertiorari by the United States Supreme Court. The court had todecide whether that the New York criminal statute of prohibiting someone fromknowingly selling material that promotes sexual performances by under agechildren violates the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court held that it was not aviolation of the First Amendment to be convicted of the criminal statue. NewYork is only one of 47 other states that have laws making the production ofchild pornography illegal without actually requiring it to be legally obscene. Thesestates have this law because they have a large interest in keeping minors safephysically and mentally. States are allowed to have stricter regulation aboutchild pornography because they have the need to keep children safe getspriority over keeping the First Amendment in this case. The standards theMiller test have for determining was is obscene does not properly regulate theproblem of child pornography.Roth v. UnitedStates was applied because it states that “obscenity is not within the area ofconstitutionally protected speech and press.” Many members of the court feelthat the government has a legitimate interest in prohibiting the distributionof obscene materials when the dissemination can be a danger to unwillingrecipients or minors.
The case of Rothv. United States is continuously being cited in cases that involve obscenity.The initial Roth test set the tone for a change in the way the United Statescourts determine if cases that are obscene are protected by the First Amendmentor not. Memoirs v.
Massachusetts wasused to determine if material that has some social value can be protected bythe First Amendment, and in the case of this book, it was. Miller v. Californiahelped adjust the way the courts determine obscene material by adding stricterrules to how we define obscene. Ginzburg v.
United States validated the Rothtest by determining that pandering through mail can be found as obscenematerial. The final case New York v.Ferber was another case that proved the importance of the landmark case Roth v.
United States, but Miller v. California as well. Although some words are freespeech, does not mean they are protected speech, and that was shown throughthese cases.