1973 June 21

Supreme Court Develops “Miller Test” on Obscenity


In Miller v. California, decided on this day, the Supreme Court developed a three-pronged test for whether a work was obscene and therefore not protected by the First Amendment. The three-prong test became known as the “Miller Test” and remains the prevailing test today. The Miller test, however, contains a number of unresolved issues: how are “contemporary community standards” defined? How are the terms “patently offensive” and “prurient interest” defined? What constitutes “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”?

The Miller Test: “(a) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest . . . (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Learn more about the Miller test: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/obscenity

Learn more: Nadine Strossen, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight For Women’s Rights (1995)

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf

Learn more at the National Coalition Against Censorship here.

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