Memoirs v. Massachusetts

Memoirs v. Massachusetts

Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413 (1966), was the United States Supreme Court decision that attempted to clarify a holding made in Roth v. United States (1957) a decade earlier regarding obscenity.

Since the Roth ruling, to be declared obscene a work of literature had to be proven by censors to: 1) appeal to prurient interest, 2) be patently offensive, and 3) have no redeeming social value. The book in question in this case was Fanny Hill (1749) by John Cleland and the Court held in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that, while it may fit the first two criteria (it appealed to prurient interest and was patently offensive), it could not be proven that Fanny Hill had no redeeming social value. The judgment favoring the plaintiff continued that it could still be held obscene under certain circumstances — for instance, if it were marketed solely for its prurient appeal.

Memoirs v. Massachusetts led to more years of debate about what was and was not obscene and the conferring of more power in these matters to proposers of local community standards.

Further reading

  • Scott, Joseph E.; Eitle, David J.; Skovron, Sandra Evans (1990). "Obscenity and the law: Is it possible for a jury to apply contemporary community standards in determining obscenity?". Law and Human Behavior 14 (2): 139–150.

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