Miller v. California
The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. California created a standard, or test, for decency that became a standard for deciding cases thereafter.
The case was an opportunity for the court to revisit earlier decisions on the issue of decency and obscenity, and to adjust the court’s standards to allow for a different application of laws.
Marvin Miller was a publisher of pornographic films and publications who was charged with a misdemeanor after a resident of California complained that she received an advertisement for his wares that included graphic sex scenes. He appealed his conviction arguing that the jury in his trial was given the wrong standard for determining if his material was obscene. He argued that the standard at the time was set by Memoirs v. Massachusetts, a previous Supreme Court decision that established three criteria as a standard for unacceptable obscene material: appealing to prurient interests, patently offensive, and having no redeeming social value.
The Memoirs case was regarding publishing a piece of literature from 1739 called Fanny Hill. Memoirs was based on a previously-decided case, Roth v. United States (1957), that said obscene material was not protected speech under the First Amendment and that individuals applying community standards of decency were able to determine what material had socially redeeming value.
Both standards resulted in many literary and artistic works being questioned, prompting the “Banned in Boston” movement.
In revisiting both Memoirs and Roth, the court sought to refine its definition of material not protected by the Constitution through the Miller decision.
The “SLAP” test that resulted from the Miller decision includes the following criteria to determine if material is obscene and can be prohibited by state law: does it have serious Scientific, Literary, Artistic, or Political merit?