Supreme Court Opinion Detailed Record

Participant Info

Smith v. California
361 US 147

In Smith v. California, Justice William Brennen holds that a bookseller cannot be convicted of possessing obscene or indecent materials without proving that the bookseller had an intent to possess or knowledge of his possession of obscene books. Brennen writes: “The existence of the State’s power to prevent the distribution of obscene matter does not mean that there can be no constitutional barrier to any form of practical exercise of that power.” Justice Black joins in overturning the conviction of the bookseller but for a much different reason. “I do not believe that any federal agencies, including Congress and this Court, have power or authority to subordinate speech and press to what they think are ‘more important interests.’ The contrary notion is, in my judgment, court-made not Constitution-made… While it is ‘obscenity and indecency’ before us today, the experience of mankind—both ancient and modern— shows that this type of elastic phrase can, and most likely will, be synonymous with the political and maybe with the religious unorthodoxy of tomorrow.”

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