ROTH v. UNITED STATES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
582
Petitioner 
Roth
Respondent 
United States
Consolidation 
Alberts v. California, No. 61
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States)
(for the petitioner)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Roth operated a book-selling business in New York and was convicted of mailing obscene circulars and an obscene book in violation of a federal obscenity statute. Roth's case was combined with Alberts v. California, in which a California obscenity law was challenged by Alberts after his similar conviction for selling lewd and obscene books in addition to composing and publishing obscene advertisements for his products.

Question 

Did either the federal or California's obscenity restrictions, prohibiting the sale or transfer of obscene materials through the mail, impinge upon the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for United States, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U.S.C. 1461

In a 6-to-3 decision written by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., the Court held that obscenity was not "within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press." The Court noted that the First Amendment was not intended to protect every utterance or form of expression, such as materials that were "utterly without redeeming social importance." The Court held that the test to determine obscenity was "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest." The Court held that such a definition of obscenity gave sufficient fair warning and satisfied the demands of Due Process. Brennan later reversed his position on this issue in Miller v. California (1973).

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ROTH v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 22 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_582>.
ROTH v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_582 (last visited September 22, 2014).
"ROTH v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1956/1956_582.