Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a state commission with broad discretion to define obscenity, and that allowed police enforcement of obscenity laws, was constitutional under the First Amendment.


The Supreme Court overruled the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. The Supreme Court, though upholding that obscenity remains outside the First Amendment, stated: “The Fourteenth Amendment requires that regulation by the States of obscenity conform to procedures that will ensure against the curtailment of constitutionally protected expression.” The Commission, however, had “no provision whatever for judicial superintendence before notices issue or even for judicial review of the Commission’s determinations of objectionableness” and so violated the Fourteenth Amendment.


Four out-of-state distributors sued the Rhode Island Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth. The Commission would notify distributors which books the Commission deemed obscene and would recommend to law enforcement which distributors did not cooperate. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island declined to hold the law unconstitutional and stop its enforcement.

Importance of Case

The Supreme Court held that the methods states use to prevent unconstitutional expression must be careful not to curtail protected expression.

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