Constitutional Law > Constitutional Law Keyed to Cohen > Governmental Control Of The Content Of Expression
Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton
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Brief Fact Summary.
Petitioners, The State of Georgia through a local district attorney, filed a complaint against Respondents Paris Adult Theater I for showing obscene films. Respondents, through their complaint, wanted the films to be declared obscene, and to enjoin the films from being shown. The trial court dismissed Respondent’s complaints, while the Georgia Supreme Court reversed causing the Petitioner’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A State has legitimate state interests in protecting its citizens from items the State believes to be “obscene.” The First and Fourteenth Amendments does not provide insulation from regulation from regulation of such material if a State can prove that they have a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the material.
Respondents, the local state district attorney and the solicitor for the local state trial court, filed complaints in a trial court against Petitioners, two Atlanta, Georgia adult movie theaters, their owners and managers, alleging that they were exhibiting to the public for paid admission two allegedly obscene films. The theater entrance contains no pictures, is inoffensive, and warns of the contents of the theater and states an age requirement to gain admission. Respondents demanded that the two films be declared obscene, and that the Petitioners be enjoined from exhibiting the films. The trial court dismissed Respondents’ complaints, which the Georgia Supreme Court reversed on appeal.
Whether there are legitimate state interests in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity?
Yes, there are legitimate state interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity, even assuming it is feasible to enforce effective safeguards against exposure to juveniles and passersby. The interests at stake include the interest of the public in the quality of life and the total community environment, the tone of commerce in the great city center, and possibly the public safety itself. Although most exercises of individual free choice are explicitly protected by the Constitution, total unlimited play for free will, however is not allowed in our society. The Court refuses to state that conduct involving consenting adults is always beyond state regulation, and therefore upholds the State of Georgia’s interest in regulating the conduct of the Petitioners. The Court feels that where communication of ideas, protected by the First Amendment, is not involved, or the particular privacy of the home protected by Stanley, or any of the other “areas or zones” of const
itutionally protected privacy, the mere fact that, as a consequence, some human “utterances” or “thoughts” may be incidentally affected does not bar the State from acting to protect legitimate state interests.
The dissent prefers to hold that, that at least in the absence of distribution to juveniles or obtrusive exposure to non-consenting adults, the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the State and Federal Governments from attempting wholly to suppress sexual oriented materials on the basis of their allegedly “obscene” contents. This view promotes greater freedom of expression while leaving room for the protection of legitimate governmental interests.
Disagrees with the basic decision that the First Amendment does not protect “obscenity.” This dissent also sees no constitutional basis for fashioning a rule that makes a publisher, producer, bookseller, librarian, or movie house operator criminally responsible, when he fails to take affirmative steps to protect the consumer against literature, books, or movies offensive to those who temporarily occupy the seats of the mighty.
This case is important in that it allows a state to regulate material it views as being obscene. But, there is an important requirement that the state must meet in order to be allowed to regulate the “obscenity,” that being a legitimate state interest in the regulating the material in question. This case also presents a dichotomy concerning freedom of expression. If a material is considered to be against the norms of society it falls under this standard, but if it is the free expression of ideas as the Court says, then it falls under the strict protections of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.