Vanderbilt Law Review

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Near the end of the 1970-71 term, the Supreme Court considered two cases, United States v. Reidell and United States v. Thirty-Seven (37) Photographs, in which constitutional challenges were raised against federal statutes regulating the distribution and importation of obscene materials. These challenges were engendered by the apparent irreconcilability of the Court's decisions in Roth v. United States and Stanley v. Georgia. In Roth, the Court held that obscenity is not within the scope of first amendment protection for speech and press. In Stanley, however, a first amendment right to possess obscene materials in one's home was recognized, and the Court added, by way of dictum, that a person has the right to receive these materials. Commentators thereupon speculated that Stanley had impliedly overruled Roth, because for the first time, obscenity was granted limited first amendment protection,and because a right to receive obscene matter would not be fully meaningful unless a constitutional right to commercially distribute obscene materials was established. Although many lower courts followed the commentators' rationale, the Supreme Court, in the instant cases, refused to recognize a right to distribute obscene matter, denied the right to possess obscene materials when incident to importation for commercial purposes, and expressly reaffirmed Roth. The questions thus presented by the Court's holding are whether there still exists a right to possess and receive obscene materials, and if so, what is its scope.