Times Film Corporation v. City of Chicago, or Times v. City of Chicago is the name of two cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1957 and 1961. Both involved the issue of limits on freedom of expression in connection with motion pictures. In both cases the court affirmed the right of local governments to engage in some form of censorship.
Within a few years after the second decision, however, the court had dramatically reversed itself, coming down in favor of broad First Amendment freedoms for filmmakers.
|Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago|
|Decided November 12, 1957|
|Full case name||Times Film Corporation v. City of Chicago, Richard J. Daley and Timothy J. O'Connor|
|Citations||355 U.S. 35 ( more )|
78 S. Ct. 115; 2 L. Ed. 2d 72
|Prior||139 F. Supp. 837 (N.D. Ill. 1956); 244 F.2d 432 (7th Cir. 1957).|
|Petition for writ of certiorari granted and judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed.|
The first case, 355 U.S. 35 (1957), was decided on November 12, 1957.
A Chicago ordinance required that before being permitted to screen any film in the city, exhibitors submit the film to the police commissioner's office and pay a license fee. The license to show the film could be denied if the film did not meet certain standards; this denial could be appealed to the mayor, whose decision would be final.
The petitioner wished to exhibit Le blé en herbe (The Game of Love), a French film directed by Claude Autant-Lara and based on a novel by Colette. The film depicted a sexual relationship between an adult woman and a teenage boy.
On May 6, 1955, the petitioner applied for an exhibition permit. On June 2, 1955, the police commissioner denied the permit because the film was indecent. On June 6, the petitioner appealed the decision to the mayor, Richard J. Daley. On June 20, the appeal was denied.
The petitioner then sued the city in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, choosing a federal court because of diversity of citizenship and because the petitioner was alleging infringement by municipal authorities of the petitioner's rights under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A report by a master in chancery found that the film's sexual content did not violate any law, citing ACLU v. Chicago ; that state interests did not justify an ordinance authorizing prior restraint on freedom of expression; and that the Chicago ordinance was vague and thus unconstitutional. The master did allow for a prohibition against persons under eighteen years of age viewing the film.
After the defendants objected to the Master's Report, the District Court issued its ruling on March 21, 1956, sustained their objections, calling the film prurient and stating that the First Amendment still allows local authorities to censor films deemed obscene, noting that the right to free speech under the First Amendment is "not absolute and unlimited.” The court cited Near v. Minnesota ;Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire ; and Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson . The court also asserted that the terms "immoral" or "obscene" were not too vague to merit the ordinance unconstitutional.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision, maintaining that the film's main purpose and effect was “to arouse sexual desires” much more than any other artistic purpose.The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision announced on November 12, 1957, agreed. The Court issued a one-sentence per curiam opinion, granting the petition for a writ of certiorari and summarily reversing the judgment of the Seventh Circuit. The decision simply cited an earlier 1957 case, Alberts v. California , in which a 6–3 majority, in a decision written by Justice Brennan, had held that obscenity was “not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press” and that the First Amendment was not intended to protect materials that were “utterly without redeeming social importance.”
|Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago|
|Argued October 19–20, 1960|
Decided January 23, 1961
|Full case name||Times Film Corporation v. City of Chicago, et al.|
|Citations||365 U.S. 43 ( more )|
81 S. Ct. 391; 5 L. Ed. 2d 403
|Prior||180 F. Supp. 843 (N.D. Ill. 1959), aff'd, 272 F.2d 90 (7th Cir. 1960)|
|The First Amendment does not afford absolute privilege against prior restraint of speech, and "although motion pictures are included within the free speech and free press guaranties of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, there is no absolute freedom to exhibit publicly, at least once, every kind of motion picture."|
|Majority||Clark, joined by Stewart, Whittaker, Harlan, and Frankfurter|
|Dissent||Warren, joined by Black, Douglas, and Brennan|
In Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago, 365 U.S. 43, Times Film Corporation once again wanted to show a film in Chicago but was denied a permit. This time the film was entitled Don Juan . The petitioner paid the license fee but refused to submit the film for examination. When the permit was refused, the corporation sued the city in federal court, arguing that the ordinance violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois dismissed the suit, stating that it presented no justiciable controversy; the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed, concluding that since neither the film nor evidence of its content had been presented, the case merely presented an abstract question of law.
The United States Supreme Court, however, agreed to adjudicate the case,in which the Times Film Corp. was represented by the ACLU. The Court heard the case on October 19, 1960, and issued its ruling on January 23, 1961. It found against Times Film Corp. on the grounds that it was not challenging the validity of the censor's standards but was challenging the censor's very right to censor.
The Court ruled, 5–4, that “there is not a word in the record as to the nature and content of 'Don Juan'” and that “[t]he challenge here is to the censor's basic authority.” Citing Gitlow v. New York , the court stated, “It has never been held that liberty of speech is absolute. Nor has it been suggested that all previous restraints on speech are invalid.” The court rejected the petitioner's argument against prior restraint, maintaining that it was not the Court's job “to limit the State in its selection of the remedy it deems most effective to cope” with the problem of obscenity in films.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Clark, with Justices Frankfurter, Harlan, Whittaker, and Stewart joining in the majority opinion.
Both Justices Warren and Douglas wrote dissenting opinions; they were joined by Justices Black and Brennan.
Chief Justice Warren's long and probing dissent, in which Justices Black, Douglas, and Brennan joined, argued that the court's decision “presents a real danger of eventual censorship for every form of communication, be it newspapers, journals, books, magazines, television, radio or public speeches. The Court purports to leave these questions for another day, but I am aware of no constitutional principle which permits us to hold that the communication of ideas through one medium may be censored while other media are immune.”
Citing such precedents as Near v. Minnesotaand Grosjean v. American Press Co. , as well as Cantwell v. Connecticut , in which the court found previous restraint unconstitutional, Chief Justice Warren emphasized that the question presented in the case was not whether an exhibitor has a “complete and absolute freedom to exhibit at least once, any and every kind of motion picture.” Rather, the question was whether government at any level can “require all motion picture exhibitors to submit all films...for licensing and censorship prior to public exhibition within the jurisdiction.”
Protesting that the court's decision “gives formal sanction to censorship in its purest and most far-reaching form,” Chief Justice Warren compared the Chicago censorship procedure to the “English licensing laws of the seventeenth century which were commonly used to suppress dissent.” Recounting several dozen recent examples of egregious censorship in the U.S., including a Chicago ban on Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator , which the city deemed offensive to German-Americans, he referred to “the evils of the censor's basic authority, of the mischief of the system against which so many great men have waged stubborn and often precarious warfare for centuries.”
Justice Douglas, in a briefer dissent with which Justices Warren and Black concurred, wrote that “censorship of movies is unconstitutional because it is a prior restraint and violative of the First Amendment.” Citing statements about censorship from Plato's Republic and Hobbes's Leviathan , he noted: “Regimes of censorship are common in the world today. Every dictator has one; every Communist regime finds it indispensable.” While censors had once been concerned with political satire, they were now preoccupied “with atheism and with sexual morality,” with a variety of groups seeking to “translate into secular law their notions of morality.”
Yet in the U.S., Justice Douglas pronounced, “the state is not the secular arm of any religious school of thought, nor is the church an instrument of the state.” The First Amendment forbids the government from supporting any censor: “It is not for government to pick and choose according to the standards of any religious, political, or philosophical group. It is not permissible, as I read the Constitution, for government to release one movie and refuse to release another because of an official's concept of the prevailing need or the public good.”
Justice Douglas further warned of “the ease with which the censor can erode liberty of expression.” The point of the First Amendment is “to enlarge, not to limit, freedom in literature and in the arts as well as in politics, economics, law, and other fields....No more potent force in defeat of that freedom could be designed than censorship. It is a weapon that no minority or majority group, acting through government, should be allowed to wield over any of us.”
Within a very short time after rendering these two decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court would shift toward a far broader interpretation of the First Amendment. Justice Brennan, who wrote the majority opinion in the 1957 case, would reverse his position on the issue in Miller v. California .
One observer has noted that Chief Justice Warren foresaw the mistake the court was making in the 1961 case. The Court would hear several related cases over the next five years, and by 1965 reversed its decision on censorship, ruling states and municipalities can not necessarily censor films under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992), is a case of the United States Supreme Court in which the Supreme Court unanimously struck down St. Paul's Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance and reversed the conviction of a teenager, referred to in court documents only as R.A.V., for burning a cross on the lawn of an African-American family for violating the First Amendment's protections for freedom of speech.
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957), along with its companion case Alberts v. California, was a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court which redefined the Constitutional test for determining what constitutes obscene material unprotected by the First Amendment.
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, which the state had deemed obscene.
Prior restraint is censorship imposed, usually by a government or institution, on expression, that prohibits particular instances of expression. It is in contrast to censorship which establishes general subject matter restrictions and reviews a particular instance of expression only after the expression has taken place.
Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that U.S. citizen civilians outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the United States cannot be tried by U.S. military tribunal, but instead retain the protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution, in this case, trial by jury. Additionally, a plurality of the Court also reaffirmed the president’s ability to enter into international executive agreements, though it held that such agreements cannot contradict federal law or the Constitution.
Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952),, was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court that largely marked the decline of motion picture censorship in the United States. It determined that provisions of the New York Education Law that had allowed a censor to forbid the commercial showing of a motion picture film that the censor deemed "sacrilegious" were a "restraint on freedom of speech" and thereby a violation of the First Amendment.
Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147 (1969), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Supreme Court struck down a Birmingham, Alabama ordinance that prohibited citizens from holding parades and processions on city streets without first obtaining a permit.
Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915), was a United States Supreme Court case in 1915, in which the Court ruled by a 9-0 vote that the free speech protection of the Ohio Constitution, which was substantially similar to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, did not extend to motion pictures.
National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977), arising out of what is sometimes referred to as the Skokie Affair, is a United States Supreme Court case dealing with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This case is considered a "'classic' free speech case" in Constitutional law classes. Related court decisions are captioned Skokie v. NSPA, Collin v. Smith, and Smith v. Collin. The Supreme Court ruled 5–4, per curiam. The Supreme Court's 1977 ruling granted certiorari and reversed and remanded the Illinois Supreme Court's denial to lift the lower court's injunction on the NSPA's march. In other words, the Courts decided a person's assertion their speech is being restrained must be reviewed immediately by the judiciary. By requiring the state court to consider the neo-Nazis' appeal without delay, the U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to allowing the National Socialist Party of America to march.
Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that a "breach of peace" ordinance of the City of Chicago that banned speech which "stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance" was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Redrup v. New York, 386 U.S. 767 (1967), was a May 8, 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, widely regarded as the end of American censorship of written fiction. Robert Redrup was a Times Square newsstand clerk who sold two of William Hamling's Greenleaf Classics paperback pulp sex novels, Lust Pool and Shame Agent, to a plainclothes police officer. He was tried and convicted in 1965.
United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460 (2010), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled that 18 U.S.C. § 48, a federal statute criminalizing the commercial production, sale, or possession of depictions of cruelty to animals, was an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965), was a United States Supreme Court case that ended government-operated rating boards with a decision that a rating board could only approve a film and had no power to ban a film. The ruling also concluded that a rating board must either approve a film within a reasonable time, or go to court to stop a film from being shown in theatres. Other court cases determined that television stations are federally licensed, so local rating boards have no jurisdiction over films shown on television. When the movie industry set up its own rating system—the Motion Picture Association of America—most state and local boards ceased operating.
United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Film, 413 U.S. 123 (1973), was an in rem case decided by the United States Supreme Court that considered the question of whether the First Amendment required that citizens be allowed to import obscene material for their personal and private use at home, which was already held to be protected several years earlier. By a 5–4 margin, the Court held that it did not.
Quantity of Books v. Kansas, 378 U.S. 205 (1973), is an in rem United States Supreme Court decision on First Amendment questions relating to the forfeiture of obscene material. By a 7–2 margin, the Court held that a seizure of the books was unconstitutional, since no hearing had been held on whether the books were obscene, and it reversed a Kansas Supreme Court decision that upheld the seizure.
Marcus v. Search Warrant, 367 U.S. 717 (1961), full title Marcus v. Search Warrant of Property at 104 East Tenth Street, Kansas City, Missouri, is an in rem case decided by the United States Supreme Court on the seizure of obscene materials. The Court unanimously overturned a Missouri Supreme Court decision upholding the forfeiture of hundreds of magazines confiscated from a Kansas City wholesaler. It held that both Missouri's procedures for the seizure of allegedly obscene material and the execution of the warrant itself violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments' prohibitions on search and seizure without due process. Those violations, in turn, threatened the rights protected by the First Amendment.
Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147 (1959), was a U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the freedom of the press. The decision deemed unconstitutional a city ordinance that made one in possession of obscene books criminally liable because it did not require proof that one had knowledge of the book’s content, and thus violated the freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment. Smith v. California continued the Supreme Court precedent of ruling that questions of freedom of expression were protected by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. It also established that in order for one to be criminally liable for possession of obscene material, there must be proof of one’s knowledge of the material.
Gregory v. Chicago, 394 U.S. 111 (1969), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court overturned the disorderly conduct charges against Dick Gregory and others for peaceful demonstrations in Chicago.
Film censorship in the United States was a frequent feature of the industry since almost the beginning of the motion picture industry until the end of strong self-regulation in 1966. Court rulings in the 1950s and 1960s severely constrained government censorship, though statewide regulation lasted until at least the 1980s.
The Vinson Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1946 to 1953, when Fred Vinson served as Chief Justice of the United States. Vinson succeeded Harlan F. Stone as Chief Justice after the latter's death, and Vinson served as Chief Justice until his death, at which point Earl Warren was nominated and confirmed to succeed Vinson.