Jacobellis v. Ohio  

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Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), was a United States Supreme Court decision handed down in 1964 involving whether the state of Ohio could, consistent with the First Amendment, ban the showing of a French film called Les Amants ("The Lovers") which the state had deemed obscene.

Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in Coventry Village, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was convicted and fined $2500 by a judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for exhibiting the film, and his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Ohio. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction, ruling that the film was not obscene and hence constitutionally protected. However, the Court could not agree as to a rationale, yielding four different opinions from the majority, with none garnering the support of more than two justices, as well as two dissenting opinions. The judgment of the Court was announced by William J. Brennan, but his opinion was joined only by Justice Arthur Goldberg.

Justice Hugo Black, joined by Justice William O. Douglas, reiterated his well-known view that the First Amendment does not permit censorship of any kind. Chief Justice Earl Warren, in dissent, decried the confused state of the Court's obscenity jurisprudence and argued that Ohio's action was consistent with the Court's decision in Roth v. United States and furthered important state interests. Justice John Marshall Harlan II also dissented, believing that states should have "wide, but not federally unrestricted" power to ban obscene films.

The most famous opinion from Jacobellis, however, was Justice Potter Stewart's concurrence, holding that the Constitution protected all obscenity except "hard-core pornography." Stewart wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." (emphasis added)

The full quote reads:


"It is possible to read the Court's opinion in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, 354 U.S. 476, in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which in those cases was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court's decisions since Roth and Alberts, that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

The Court's obscenity jurisprudence would remain fragmented until 1973's Miller v. California.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jacobellis v. Ohio" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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