• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court broadly declared that adults have the right to possess pornographic materials in the privacy of their own homes.

The Supreme Court unanimously decided that a state could not convict adults for the mere possession of legally obscene materials in their own homes. In part, Thurgood Marshall’sMarshall, Thurgood;Stanley v. Georgia[Stanley v. Georgia] opinion rests on the Fourth Amendment protection of the home from search and seizure; in other parts, it relies on the First Amendment protection of freedom of expression. Still other parts of the opinion seem to rely on an expanded right of privacy, but this last conclusion was undercut by the Court’s later decision in Bowers v. Hardwick[case]Bowers v. Hardwick[Bowers v. Hardwick] (1986), which allowed the state to regulate private sexual behavior. After Roth v. United States[case]Roth v. United States[Roth v. United States] (1957), the Court’s rulings on obscenity had followed a tortuous path. For a time, some thought Stanley might represent a clear unanimous conclusion on the part of the Court on the question of possession of pornography in one’s home. However, Justice Byron R. White, writing for the majority in Osborne v. Ohio[case]Osborne v. Ohio[Osborne v. Ohio] (1990), banned the mere possession of child pornography in the home and cautioned that Stanley should not be read too broadly.Obscenity and pornography;Stanley v. Georgia[Stanley v. Georgia]

Bowers v. Hardwick

First Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Jacobellis v. Ohio

Memoirs v. Massachusetts

New York v. Ferber

Obscenity and pornography

Osborne v. Ohio

Privacy, right to

Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California

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