Ward v. Illinois

LOCATION: Wes Ward’s Book Store

DOCKET NO.: 76-415
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Illinois

CITATION: 431 US 767 (1977)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 09, 1977

J. Steven Beckett - for appellant
Melbourne A. Noel, Jr. - for appellee

Facts of the case

In 1971, Wesley Ward was charged with selling two sadomasochistic publications at his store in violation of the Illinois obscenity statute. The statute defined material as obscene if its predominant appeal was “a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion” and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters. Ward waived his right to a jury trial, and was found guilty based on the two publications and the testimony of the police officer who purchased them at the store. Ward was sentenced to one day in jail and a $200 fine. While Ward’s appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. California, which confirmed that obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment, but acknowledging that official regulation should only cover “works which depict or describe sexual conduct” and such conduct must be specifically defined in the applicable law. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed Ward’s conviction. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed, holding that the publications were obscene and the Illinois statute was not unconstitutional.


Is the Illinois obscenity statute unconstitutionally vague and/or overbroad?

Media for Ward v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1977 in Ward v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 09, 1977 in Ward v. Illinois

Byron R. White:

The other case I have, the -- the Ward case comes here from the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois.

That State sustained the constitutionality of the state obscenity law against claims that the law did not comply with the requirements of this Court's decision several years ago in Miller against California.

We granted -- we noted probable jurisdiction because -- because the -- the decision was in conflict with a decision of the federal three-judge court which had invalidated the statutes.

We affirmed, we agree with the Illinois Supreme Court that the statute is consistent with Miller.

We don't think it's either vague or overbroad, so we do affirmed with the judgment.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Stewart has joined.

Mr. Justice Stevens has also dissented with Justices Brennan, Stewart and Marshall have joined Mr. Justice Stevens.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.