Free Speech on the Docket

Jacobellis v. Ohio
378 U.S. 184 (1964)

Case Dates:
Friday, 3 June, 1960 - Monday, 22 June, 1964
Facts:

In 1959, Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Movie Theater in Cleveland Heights, showed Les Amants (“The Lovers”), a film that featured a woman who leaves her husband and family for an adulterous affair with a young archeologist. The film featured an explicit love scene, which allegedly violated the Ohio State Code as obscene in nature and harmful to children. Jacobellis was convicted and fined $2,500 by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

At issue in this case was whether the state of Ohio could ban the showing of Les Amants under the First Amendment. Jacobellis appealed the ruling in April 1963 with lawyer Ephraim London, who specialized in film censorship cases. Assisting London on the briefs were Bennet Kleinman and Martin Garbus. Morton B. Icove, William B. Goldfarb, Herbert B. Levine, and Eugene Gold of the Cleveland Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in the Eighth Judicial District Court of Appeals urging reversal of the decision. Later, Bernard Berkman and Jack Day of the Ohio ACLU, and Melvin Wulf of the national ACLU, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, also urging reversal.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ohio Supreme Court judgment on June 22, 1964 and ruled that the film was not obscene. Justice Potter Stewart, in his now famous statement, concluded: “Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard core pornography . . . I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Amicus brief filed by the Cleveland Civil Liberties Union.

Jacobellis v. Ohio decision.