Jacobellis v. Ohio

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Jacobellis v. Ohio
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 26, 1963
Decided June 22, 1964
Full case name Nico Jacobellis v. Ohio
Citations 378 U.S. 184 (more)
84 S. Ct. 1676; 12 L. Ed. 2d 793; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 822; 28 Ohio Op. 2d 101
Prior history Defendant convicted, Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 6-3-60; affirmed, 175 N.E.2d 123 (Ohio Ct.App. 1961); affirmed, 179 N.E.2d 777 (Ohio 1962)
Subsequent history None
Holding
The First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, protected a movie theater manager from being prosecuted for possessing and showing a film that was not obscene.
Court membership
Case opinions
Plurality Brennan, joined by Goldberg
Concurrence Black, joined by Douglas
Concurrence Stewart
Concurrence Goldberg
Concurrence White
Dissent Warren, joined by Clark
Dissent Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV; Ohio Rev. Code § 2905.34

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 The Lovers (Les Amants) which the state had deemed obscene.

Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in the Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was convicted and fined $2,500 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 Court's obscenity jurisprudence would remain fragmented until 1973's Miller v. California. Many legal observers feel that, after Miller, it remained confusing and vague. What is obscene in one place can well be completely legal in another.

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Works related to Jacobellis v. Ohio at Wikisource

  • Text of Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia