Monday, June 29, 2009

50 years ago today, supreme court held new york law barring film of "lady chatterley's lover" unconstitutional

on june 29, 1959, the supreme court held in kingsley international pictures corp. v. regents, that a new york state law that granted the board of education the power to issue licenses to, among other things, exhibit films - was unconstitutional. in this little cited decision, the supreme court extended core first amendment protections to films.

the court reversed the new york state board of regents decision that concluded the 1955 french film ("l'amant de lady chatterley"), while not obscene, "alluringly presents adultery as acceptable behavior." this was the same year that the u.s. postmaster general seized copies of the grove press edition of the book as obscene. that seizure was overturned by a new york district court judge.

in kingsley, justice stewart wrote for the court that "sexual morality" was an entirely different concept (and protected speech) than concepts of obscenity or pornography (neither of which is protected speech). justice stewart noted that the new york state law sought to regulate advocacy of opinion and expression - core first amendment guarantees.

in a coincidence, tonight hbo airs "shouting fire: stories from the edge of free speech" - check it out!

and if lady chatterley and her travails are more your cup of tea, check out charles rembar's classic, "the end of obscenity: the trials of lady chatterley, tropic of cancer, and fanny hill" - a book i'm constantly tempted to get down from my bookshelf and reread.

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