History: Federal, state jurisdiction

The First Amendment specifically stated that “Congress shall make no law,” in effect leaving censoring practice up to the states. Appealed state cases, of course, could eventually be heard by the federal Supreme Court, but the process for reaching such a venue can be long and potentially costly.

The federal government prohibited the circulation of material deemed obscene in a variety of ways, from regulations on importing to those giving the Post Office the power to confiscate obscene mail. A variety of incidents and publications helped to shape obscenity standards throughout U.S. history.