Jacobellis v. Ohio
Decided on June 22, 1964, 378 US 478


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY
III. AMICI CURIAE
IV. DECISION
V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: First Amendment (obscenity), 14th Amendment
 
B. Legal Question Presented:

Did Ohio state courts properly find the French film Les Amants ("The Lovers") obscene, and hence not entitled to the protection of free expression that is guaranteed by the First and 14th Amendments?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The manager of a Cleveland Heights, Ohio movie theater, Appellant Nico Jacobellis, was convicted on two counts of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film (Les Amants) in violation of Ohio state code. Jacobellis was fined $500 on the first count and $2,000 on the second, and was sentenced to the "workhouse" if the fines were not paid. This conviction by a three judge court panel was affirmed by an intermediate appellate court and later the Supreme Court of Ohio. The US Supreme Court accepted the Appellant's case on appeal.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Ephraim London argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Bennet Kleinman and Martin Garbus. John T. Corrigan argued the cause and filed a brief for appellee.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Bernard A. Berkman, Jack G. Day and Melvin L. Wulf filed a brief for the American and Ohio Civil Liberties Unions, as amici curiae, urging reversal. Charles H. Keating, Jr. filed a brief for Citizens for Decent Literature, Inc., as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We recognize the legitimate and indeed exigent interest of States and localities throughout the Nation in preventing the dissemination of material deemed harmful to children. But that interest does not justify a total suppression of such material, the effect of which would be to 'reduce the adult population... to reading only what is fit for children'... State and local authorities might well consider whether their objectives in this area would be better served by laws aimed specifically at preventing distribution of objectionable material to children, rather than at totally prohibiting its dissemination... Since the present conviction is based upon exhibition of the film to the public at large, and not upon its exhibition to children, the judgment must be reviewed under the strict standard applicable in determining the scope of the expression that is protected by the Constitution.

We have applied that standard to the motion picture in question. The Lovers [Les Amants] involves a woman bored with her life and marriage who abandons her husband and family for a young archaeologist with whom she has suddenly fallen in love. There is an explicit love scene in the last reel of the film, and the State's objections are based almost entirely upon that scene. The film was favorably reviewed in a number of national publications, although disparaged in others, and was rated by at least two critics of national stature among the best films of the year in which it was produced. It was shown in approximately 100 of the larger cities in the United States, including Columbus and Toledo, Ohio. We have viewed the film, in the light of the record made in the trial court, and we conclude that it is not obscene within the standards enunciated in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, which we reaffirm here.
"

Justice Potter Stewart's concurring opinion became famous for including the following statements:

"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."


Held: The Ohio Supreme Court judgment is reversed.
Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Voted with the majority, joined Black's concurrence)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Warren, E. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Clark, T. Con (Voted with the minority, joined Warren's dissent)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Ohio Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.