Miller vs. california

Miller vs. California is a landmark case held in 1973 that led to a legal definition of obscene and a confirmation that the 1st amendment does not include pornographic materials. In this case Marvin Miller had appealed in the Supreme Court against a ruling that had seen him being guilty of a misdemeanor. He had carried out an activity of mass mailing advertisements for adult books. This particular case had seen him send these materials to a hotel; the hotel manager and his mother opened these. They sued Marvin miller claiming that they had not solicited for them. A California court had found him guilty for knowingly and intentionally having distributed pornographic materials. The case was forwarded to the Supreme Court where the former ruling was affirmed.

Miller’s arguments were revolving around the perceived protection of thefreedom of speechby the first amendment. His act was protected by the constitution. There was also contention on the legal definition of the word obscenity. The judge’s decision was based on an argument that obscenities and pornographic materials were not protected by the first amendment. The state, the court argued, had the powers, and the right to regulate the flow of those materials. What is obscene, they stated was to be determined by the application of “ contemporary community standards” as opposed to “ national standards” (www. acluprocon. org)

The court in making this ruling had a gigantic task trying to define pornography and obscenities. In the end, the court was in agreement after, long reviews, of the legal definition of obscenity which hence it said would be:

…limited to works which taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex, which portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, an which taken as a whole, do not have serious literacy, artistic, political or scientific value. (www. law. kmkc. edu).

If an average person finds these materials appealing to sex in a morally corrupt manner and if it lacks in any political artistic or social usefulness then it shall be considered offensive and the publicist be liable to a misdemeanor.

The miller’s arguments on the protection of his publication by the first amendment were quashed on those grounds. This ruling drew much opposition as well as support. It was as controversial as the subject itself. It was playing around a thin balance of morality and the fundamental freedom of speech.

One of the fallacies available in this court ruling emanates from the belief that the state and the court are supposed to uphold the freedom of speech as one of the key constitutional rights. How then does this same court rule against a principle it real posits to protect. The ruling that the first amendment does not extend to protect pornography is not understandable. It seems the court holds pornographic materials as being special and not a form of expression.

The decision on what was to be considered obscene and what is to be regarded as socially acceptable was made in a very subjective manner. This was worsened by the claim that it was to be made by an average person in consideration of “ contemporary community standards”. This means that there will be differing criterion to gauge the obsceneness of materials and contents.

Different federal states hence can arrive at different verdicts regarding the issue of pornography. The question would be posed about why double standards were to be applied in the different states. The agreement also on community standards is also bound to be confusing. There is no specific criterion on how the people in a state would come to an agreement as to what community standards are to be considered proper.

The definition of obscenity passed in the ruling excludes serous political and literary materials or any material that can be considered important to the society. Ambiguity thrives in the term serious. It is not also clear who is supposed to decide what is to be termed as serious or not serious. Serious materials would mean different things especially in the diversities that exist in the United States (www. csulb. edu). The ruling had it that the state had authority to censor any materials considered obscene. It is to act as a moral guardian.

Questions rages on the harm caused by these publications that would see the state go to an extent of suppressing freedom of speech. The consequences of allowing pornography are not clear as other materials such as films with violent scenes are allowed free circulation and yet people do not get violent.

It is understandable however where the court was coming from unsolicited obscene mails is not excusable but gagging their publication and public’s voluntary access to them is not understandable.

Work Cited
Miller Vs. California. Aclu Procon. org case No. 250. September 2007

Miller Vs. California. Supreme Court of the United States. Decided on June 21, 1973. 12 September 2007 http://www. law. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/miller. html

Julie C Van Camp. Freedom of Expression at the National Endowment for the Arts. 4th July 2005.  12 September 2007