Jacobellis v. Ohio

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Jacobellis v. Ohio
Argued March 26, 1963
Decided June 22, 1964
Full case nameNico Jacobellis v. Ohio
Citations378 U.S. 184 (more)
84 S. Ct. 1676; 12 L. Ed. 2d 793; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 822; 28 Ohio Op. 2d 101
Case history
PriorDefendant 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); probable jurisdiction noted, 371 U.S. 808 (1962).
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
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Arthur Goldberg
Case opinions
PluralityBrennan, joined by Goldberg
ConcurrenceBlack, joined by Douglas
DissentWarren, joined by Clark
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 the Louis Malle film The Lovers (Les Amants), which the state had deemed obscene.[1]


Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in the Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was charged with two counts of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film in [378 U.S. 184, 186] violation of Ohio Revised Code (1963 Supp.), convicted and ordered by a judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to pay fines of $500 on the first count and $2,000 on the second (equivalent to $26,000 in 2023),[2] or if the fines were not paid, to be incarcerated at the workhouse, for exhibiting the film.[3] Jacobellis' conviction was upheld by the Ohio Court of Appeals[4] and the Supreme Court of Ohio.[5]

Supreme Court[edit]

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the conviction by ruling that the film was not obscene and so was constitutionally protected. However, the Court could not agree as to a rationale, yielding four different opinions from the majority. No opinion, including the two dissenting ones, had the support of more than two justices. The decision 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.[6] 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.[7] Justice John Marshall Harlan II also dissented; he believed that states should have "wide, but not federally unrestricted" power to ban obscene films.[8]

The most famous opinion from Jacobellis, however, was Justice Potter Stewart's concurrence, stating that the Constitution protected all obscenity except "hard-core pornography". He 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."[9]

Subsequent developments[edit]

The Court's obscenity jurisprudence would remain fragmented until 1973's Miller v. California.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964).
  2. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  3. ^ "FindLaw's United States Supreme Court case and opinions".
  4. ^ State v. Jacobellis, 175 N.E.2d 123 (Ohio Ct. App. 1961).
  5. ^ State v. Jacobellis, 179 N.E.2d 777 (Ohio 1962).
  6. ^ Jacobellis, 378 U.S. at 196 (Black, J., concurring).
  7. ^ Jacobellis, 378 U.S. at 199 (Warren, C.J., dissenting).
  8. ^ Jacobellis, 378 U.S. at 203 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
  9. ^ Jacobellis, 378 U.S. at 197 (Stewart, J., concurring).
  10. ^ Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).

External links[edit]