Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the conviction of a manager of a movie theater for "possessing and exhibiting an allegedly obscene film" violated the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment.


The Supreme Court found the film not legally obscene, overruling the Supreme Court of Ohio.


A manager of a movie theater in Ohio was convicted for “possessing and exhibiting an allegedly obscene film” for showing Les Amants.

Importance of Case

The Court held that Les Amants was not legally obscene, noting that “the State’s objections are almost entirely” based upon an “explicit love scene in the last reel of the film” and that “the film was favorably reviewed in a number of national publications.” The work at question must be looked at as a whole.

The Court also affirmed that under the Roth v. United States (1957) standard for obscenity (later superseded by Miller v. California (1973)), part of which considers “community standards” for decency, the Court cannot accept that “any ‘local’ definition of the ‘community’ could properly be employed in delineating the area of expression that is protected by the Federal Constitution.” The Court, “reaffirm[ed] the position taken in Roth to the effect that the constitutional status of an allegedly obscene work must be determined on the basis of a national standard.”

Perhaps the most famous part of this case is Justice Stewart’s concurring opinion in which he famously proclaimed “I know when I see it” when referring to “hardcore pornography.”

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