I. Facts: Miller conducted a mass mailing campaign advertising "adult" material and, during this campaign, advertisements containing explicit depictions of sexual activities were mailed to a restaurant without a request for such material. The State of California holds that Miller's actions constitute a misdemeanor under California Penal Code § 311.2 (a) as he knowingly distributed obscene matter and his conviction was upheld by the Appellate Court in California.
II. Issues: (a) Does California Penal Code § 311.2 (a) banning the distribution of obscene material violate the protections of the First and Fourteenth Amendments?
III. Holding: (a) Not necessarily. The case must be retried to incorporate the three tier test established by the court in determining whether material is to be considered obscene and within the scope of the state to limit. If this new test is applied and the Miller is once again convicted, California's code functions within the limits of the Constitution.
IV. Reasoning: Holding that the Supreme Court has held that obscene material does not enjoy First Amendment protection, the justices sought to examine how material is determined to be obscene. The previous standard for determining whether certain speech is obscene (and therefore subject to state limitations) required that speech be considered obscene only if it lacks "redeeming social value." However, the Court held in this case that the First Amendment only protects "works which, taken as a whole, have serious literary, artistic, political , or scientific value, regardless of whether the government or a majority of the people approve of the ideas these works represent." In order for material to be considered obscene and within the power of states to regulate within the limits of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, under this new reasoning, it must be found that 1. "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" "would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, 2. "the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law and 3. "the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Additionally, the Court found the previous requirement to create a virtually impossible burden in prosecuting obscenity cases.
V. Concurring and Dissenting Opinions: (a) Justice Douglas dissented. Douglas held that the Court should not allow a man to be convicted of selling an obscene article if the sale occurs before a court has determined such an article to be obscene. He argued that sending men to jail for violating standards that are undefined, unclear, and difficult to apply is "a monstrous thing to do." Further, he held that the First Amendment does not grant or imply any exception to its protections, especially not to speech that is being targeted because it is "offensive" to some individuals. Also, he held that the Court has not constitutionally granted power to define "obscenity." (b) Justices Brennan, Stewart and Marshall dissented. They held that California Penal Code § 311.2 (a) was "overbroad, and therefore invalid on its face."
VI. Significance: The Court in this case upheld the constitutionality of state limitations on obscene material and created a new test for determining what material is to be considered obscene and, therefore, within the power of states to regulate.