The court, on a 6-2 vote with Justice Lewis Powell not participating, reversed an appeals court ruling that said Washington state's obscenity law was not specific enough in outlining what kinds of books, magazines, movies and other materials were obscene.
The court said only the portion of the law that dealt with ""lust'' should have been invalidated.
""Unless there are countervailing considerations, the Washington law should have been invalidated only insofar as the word "lust' is to be understood as reaching protected materials,'' Justice Bryon White wrote.
However, in a dissent Justice William Brennan, joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall, said the Washington law was ""unconstitutionally over-broad and therefore invalid on its face.''
The high court reached its decision after poring over a variety of definitions of lust, including dictionaries dating to the 1930s and former President Jimmy Carter's famous remark that he had ""looked on women with lust.''
Attorney John H. Weston, the Beverly Hills, Calif., lawyer representing about 25 booksellers, theaters and others fighting the law, also found room to praise the decision.
He said the court's ruling effectively prohibits the word lust in all anti-pornography statues, which he said is a major setback for groups that have been trying to ban material that is ""simply arousing.''
Paul McGeady, general counsel of Morality in Media, a New York group fighting on behalf of the law, hailed the ruling.
""The appeals court had gone out of its way to throw a monkey wrench into obscenity law,'' he said. …