Facts of the Case
In the New York and Kentucky cases, petitioners, a newsstand clerk and a bookstore owner, were convicted for selling allegedly obscene books and magazines in violation of N.Y. Pen. Law §1141(1) and Ky. Rev. Stat. § 436.100, respectively. In the Arkansas case, the courts, in a civil proceeding under Ark. Stat. Ann. §§ 41-2713-41-2728, declared certain issues of various magazines to be obscene, enjoined their distribution, and ordered their surrender and destruction. On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgments.
Do petitioners’ obscenity convictions violate their First Amendment rights?
Yes. In a per curiam decision, the court reversed the judgments of the respective lower courts, holding that while members of the majority advocated a variety of legal approaches to obscenity cases, the judgments at hand did not withstand scrutiny under any of the available approaches. The court specified that two of its members argue that the court has no authority to control publications on obscenity grounds, a third member limits the state’s authority to a specific and readily identifiable class of material, and other members limit the state’s authority to prurient material that is offensive to the specific community and has no redeeming social value. Yet another justice did not view social value as an independent factor. The court held that the judgments failed all of these tests.Justice John Harlan, joined by Justice Thomas Clark, dissented, noting that Redrup v. New York and Austin v. Kentucky originally raised questions regarding the scienter requirement in obscenity prosecutions