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Memoirs v. Massachusetts

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Memoirs v. Massachusetts
Argued December 7–8, 1965
Decided March 21, 1966
Full case nameA Book Named "John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure", et al. v. Attorney General of Massachusetts
Citations383 U.S. 413 (more)
86 S. Ct. 975; 16 L. Ed. 2d 1; 1966 U.S. LEXIS 2906; 1 Media L. Rep. 1390
Since the First Amendment forbids censorship of expression of ideas not linked with illegal action, Fanny Hill cannot be proscribed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Abe Fortas
Case opinions
PluralityBrennan, joined by Warren, Fortas
ConcurrenceBlack, joined by Stewart
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

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

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 (or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1749) by John Cleland and the Court held in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that, while it might 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.

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Further reading[edit]

  • 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. doi:10.1007/BF01062969. S2CID 145189559.


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