Obscene material has no protection under the First Amendment. This holding is directed, not at thoughts or speech, but at depiction and description of specifically defined sexual conduct that states may regulate within limits designed to prevent infringement of First Amendment rights. Commerce in obscene material is unprotected by any constitutional doctrine of privacy. The states have a legitimate interest in regulating commerce in obscene material and in regulating exhibition of obscene material in places of public accommodation, including so-called "adult" theaters from which minors are excluded.
Pursuant to Georgia law, state officials filed civil complaints in the Superior Court, Fulton County, Georgia, for a declaration that certain movies being shown at the defendants' "adult" theaters were obscene as defined in a Georgia criminal statute, and for an injunction against their continued presentation to the public. After a non-jury trial, the trial court concluded that even assuming that the films were "obscene," nevertheless their exhibition was constitutionally permissible since they were exhibited only to consenting adults, the defendants having given requisite notice to the public of the nature of the films and having afforded reasonable protection against exposure of the films to minors. The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed, holding that the movies were obscene, and that their exhibition at the defendants' theaters could be constitutionally prohibited, even though shown only to consenting adults.
Is obscene material protected under the First Amendment?
The Court vacated and remanded. As obscene material was not protected by the First Amendment and as the state procedure provided adequate due process, the Court upheld a ruling that obscene materials did not acquire constitutional immunity from regulation simply because they were shown only to consenting adults. As there were legitimate state interests at stake in regulating the films, scientific data demonstrating damage from exposure to the obscene films was unnecessary. The Court rejected the claims that the right to see obscene films was guaranteed by the First Amendment or other constitutional privacy guarantees and that conduct directly involving "consenting adults" had a special constitutional status. As the state had a legitimate interest in regulating commerce in obscene material and in regulating public exhibition of obscene films, nothing precluded the regulation of such materials provided that the applicable state law met the First Amendment standards set forth in Miller v. California.