Sunday, December 09, 2012

Nico Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964): Part II

Louis Malle's Les Amants / The Lovers (1958): meet Nico Jacobellis (July 4, 1922, in Bari, Italy-November 12, 2000).

Nico Jacobellis emigrated to the USA from Italy after World War Two (in 1948) and completed degrees in both English and Drama. He was an energetic cultural advocate and by the 1950s was managing several independent/art movie theatres. The showing of Les Amants / The Lovers at his Cleveland Heights theatre in 1959 led to this: "The [local] district attorney had Mr. Jacobellis arrested and prosecuted under state obscenity laws. Mr. Jacobellis was convicted and fined $2,500." Other consequences: several days in jail, "home searched . . . hate letters . . . threatening phone calls . . . ostracism."  Land of the free, home of the brave.

Eventually, Nico Jacobellis won in the US Supreme Court. "Jacobellis v. Ohio is important in the development of the law on obscenity because it emphasized that a finding that subject matter is obscene cannot turn simply on the degree of tolerance for free expression in the locality where the prosecution is brought . . ."  In other words, neither ignorant drooling mobs nor the half-baked local officials that represent them can flippantly ban whatever they don't like (unless they can prove a clear and present danger).  A significant victory for liberty and freedom of expression, without any question.  

(Primary source: Donald E. Nawi, "'I Know It When I See It:' Remembering the Defendant in a Landmark Free Speech Case," New York Times, April 8, 2001).

Today's Rune: Defense.


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