Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton
413 U.S. 49 (1973)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49 (1973)

Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton

No. 71-1051

Argued October 19, 1972

Decided June 21, 1973

413 U.S. 49

Syllabus

Respondents sued under Georgia civil law to enjoin the exhibiting by petitioners of two allegedly obscene films. There was no prior restraint. In a jury-waived trial, the trial court (which did not require "expert" affirmative evidence of obscenity) viewed the films and thereafter dismissed the complaints on the ground that the display of the films in commercial theaters to consenting adult audiences (reasonable precautions having been taken to exclude minors) was "constitutionally permissible." The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, holding that the films constituted "hard core" pornography not within the protection of the First Amendment.

Held:

1. Obscene material is not speech entitled to First Amendment protection. Miller v. California, ante p. 413 U. S. 15; Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476. P. 413 U. S. 54.

2. The Georgia civil procedure followed here (assuming use of a constitutionally acceptable standard for determining what is unprotected by the First Amendment) comported with the standards of Teitel Film Corp. v. Cusack, 390 U. S. 139; Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U. S. 51; and Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown, 354 U. S. 436. Pp. 413 U. S. 54-55.

3. It was not error to fail to require expert affirmative evidence of the films' obscenity, since the films (which were the best evidence of what they depicted) were themselves placed in evidence. P. 413 U. S. 56.

4. States have a legitimate interest in regulating commerce in obscene material and its exhibition in places of public accommodation, including "adult" theaters. Pp. 413 U. S. 57-69.

(a) There is a proper state concern with safeguarding against crime and the other arguably ill effects of obscenity by prohibiting the public or commercial exhibition of obscene material. Though conclusive proof is lacking, the States may reasonably determine that a nexus does or might exist between antisocial behavior and obscene material, just as States have acted on unprovable assumptions in other areas of public control. Pp. 413 U. S. 57-63.

(b) Though States are free to adopt a laissez-faire policy toward commercialized obscenity, they are not constitutionally obliged to do so. P. 413 U. S. 64.

Page 413 U. S. 50

(c) Exhibition of obscene material in places of public accommodation is not protected by any constitutional doctrine of privacy. A commercial theater cannot be equated with a private home; nor is there here a privacy right arising from a special relationship, such as marriage. Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U. S. 557; Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, distinguished. Nor can the privacy of the home be equated with a "one" of "privacy" that follows a consumer of obscene materials wherever he goes. United States v. Orito, post, p. 413 U. S. 139; United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Film, post, p. 123. Pp. 413 U. S. 65-67.

(d) Preventing the unlimited display of obscene material is not thought control. Pp. 413 U. S. 67-68.

(e) Not all conduct directly involving "consenting adults" only has a claim to constitutional protection. Pp. 413 U. S. 68-69.

5. The Georgia obscenity laws involved herein should now be reevaluated in the light of the First Amendment standards newly enunciated by the Court in Miller v. California, ante, p. 15. Pp. 413 U. S. 69-70.

228 Ga. 343, 185 S.E.2d 768, vacated and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 413 U. S. 70. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 413 U. S. 73.

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Primary Holding

Prohibiting the dissemination of obscene material among consenting adults is permissible if it is tied to preventing related antisocial behavior and upholding the quality of the community.

Facts

The state of Georgia tried to issue an injunction against showing sexually explicit movies in two Atlanta theaters, which were dedicated to showing these types of films. The theaters did not use obscene or offensive advertising on their exteriors, but they did place signs at the entrance warning that people could enter only if they were 21 and able to show proof of their age. Other signs informed visitors that they should not enter if they were offended by nudity. The state argued that the theaters nevertheless violated the obscenity law because they showed films that included simulated sex acts in addition to nudity.

Opinions

Majority

  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Although the concerns of corrupting juveniles or harming unwilling observers are not present here, the state still has a valid interest in preserving the quality of life and the community environment. It may curtail the dissemination of obscenity even to consenting adults for these reasons or if it believes that it poses a threat to public safety. Deference is due to its judgment that this public exhibition of obscenity merits an injunction on the basis that it causes harm to the community.

Dissent

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Potter Stewart
  • Thurgood Marshall

Obscenity cases are difficult to evaluate because the standards are loose and vague. Applying these laws tends to restrain some constitutionally protected speech. While the state does have a legitimate interest in protecting children and unconsenting adults, the interests that it cites with regard to withholding obscene material from consenting adults are too speculative to be taken seriously. Obscene material should not be enjoined from distribution in the context of consenting adults, although the state can limit its distribution to certain channels.

Dissent

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

The obscenity exception to the First Amendment should be eliminated, since art and culture embrace a wide range of tastes.

Case Commentary

States do have the authority to regulate obscene productions in commerce, especially when they may be exposed to children. This is another illustration of the lack of First Amendment protections for speech that falls within one of the categorical exceptions, such as obscenity.

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