Requiem for Roth: Obscenity Doctrine is Changing

In 1957, the Supreme Court decided Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, and thereby commenced what has proved to be one of the most perplexing and politically sensitive tasks the Court has ever undertaken-determining the constitutional limitations on the power of state and federal governments to regulate obscenity. After twelve years of decisions in the obscenity field, the regrettable truth is that “no stable approach to the obscenity problem has yet been devised by [the] Court.” The unreconciled conflicts among the several opinions of Supreme Court Justices ·written since 1957, and the new uncertainties created by the substantial changes in the personnel of the Court, make it difficult, if not impossible, to extract controlling principles from the obscenity cases. But in the cacophony which now prevails, a careful ear can pick out the opening strains of a developing theme-a theme which is quite different from that played in the most noted opinions in the cases decided since Roth v. United States. The symphony which seems to be emerging is a requiem for Roth.