Roth v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Petitioner, Roth (Petitioner), was charged with violating the federal law against obscenity.

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

Is obscenity protected speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?

Answer

No. The federal law banning such speech is constitutional as long as the appropriate standard of obscene is used. Obscenity is not communication and is without social value.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court of the United States concluded that obscenity was not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press. The Court determined that the test of whether materials were obscene was whether, to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appealed to prurient interest. The lower courts applied the proper standard. Because the material was obscene, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1461 was a proper exercise of the postal power delegated to Congress to punish use of the mail for obscene material. The Court noted that a lack of precision was not offensive to the requirements of due process, but that the statutes gave adequate notice of what constituted prohibited material. Cal. Penal Code § 311 did not impermissibly interfere with the federal statute, but regulated activity not contemplated under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1461.

  • Case Brief: 1957
  • Petitioner: Roth
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 354 US 476 (1957)
Argued: Apr 22, 1957
Decided: Jun 24, 1957