United States v. Reidel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
United States v. Reidel
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 20, 1971
Decided May 3, 1971
Full case name United States v. Reidel
Citations 402 U.S. 351 (more)
Prior history Stanley v. Georgia, Roth v. United States
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan, Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Case opinions
Majority White, joined by Burger, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, Blackmun
Concurrence Harlan
Concurrence Marshall
Dissent Black, joined by Douglas

United States v. Reidel, 402 U.S. 351 (1971), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a postal regulation that banned the sale of adult materials was constitutionally permissible.[1][2]


At the time of this case, § 1461 of Title 18 prohibited the mailing of any "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance..."[2] § 1461 provided for fines and/or up to five years imprisonment for first offenders, and up to ten years for later offenses.[3]

Two years earlier, in Stanley v. Georgia (1969), the Court had found a Constitutional right to possess pornographic materials.[4]

In 1970, Norman Reidel advertised, sold and mailed copies of his $1 booklet, The True Facts about Imported Pornography, to adult-identified customers.[5][6] Reidel was prosecuted under three counts of violating § 1461. The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the case, whereupon the U.S. appealed directly to the Supreme Court.[2]

The Court heard and decided this case along with United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs.[2]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Associate Justice Byron White penned the Court's opinion reversing the district court and finding the postal regulation Constitutional. While individuals still retain a right to possess pornography, as the Court had found in Stanley v. Georgia, the government still had the power to regulate the distribution and sale of obscene materials, as it had found in Roth v. United States (1957).[7]

Justice Hugo Black, joined by Justice William O. Douglas, dissented in both this case and in Thirty-seven Photographs case, arguing that § 1461 was unconstitutional, that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution "denies Congress the power to act as censor".


  1. ^ Green, Jonathon; Karolides, Nicholas J. (2009-01-01). Encyclopedia of Censorship. Infobase Publishing. pp. 632–. ISBN 9781438110011. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Supreme Court Report". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. 57: 811. August 1971. 
  3. ^ "18 U.S.C. § 1461 : US Code - Section 1461: Mailing obscene or crime-inciting matter". FindLaw. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ Dimitrakopoulos, Ioannis G. (2007-03-01). Individual Rights and Liberties Under the U.S. Constitution: The Case Law of the U.S. Supreme Court. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 586–. ISBN 9789004157910. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Obscene Publications". The International and Comparative Law Quarterly. Cambridge University Press. 20 (4): 772. August 1971. JSTOR 757769. doi:10.1093/iclqaj/20.4.772. 
  6. ^ "High Court Upholds Law On Mailing Obscene Matter". Star-News. May 3, 1971. p. 9. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "United States v. Reidel". Justia. Retrieved January 23, 2013. 

External links[edit]