Law Dictionary

Roth v. United States

U.S. Case Law
  1. 354 U.S. 426 (1957), held that obscene material is not protected speech and tendered a basic definition of obscenity: “Whether, to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interests.” The case involved a publisher (Roth) who had been convicted for mailing obscene materials and who then appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech had been violated. Although the Court found against him, its ruling was based on an attempt to balance individual freedoms with the interests of the community. Subsequent decisions would place greater emphasis on local standards in the definition of obscenity and broaden the protections accorded to publishers. In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), the Court held that when a state regulates obscene materials the state law must specifically define the sexual conduct depicted or described by the material, and the law must be limited to material which portrays the conduct in a patently offensive way and does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.


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