SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
360 U.S. 684
Kingsley Pictures Corp v. Board of Regents
Argued: April 23, 1959
Decided: June 29, 1959
Mr. Ephraim London, New York City, for appellant.
Mr. Charles A. Brind, Jr., Albany, for appellee.
Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court
Mr. Justice BLACK, concurring.
I concur in the Court’s opinion and judgment but add a few words because of concurring opinions by several Justices who rely on their appraisal of the movie Lady Chatterley’s Lover for holding that New York cannot constitutionally bar it. Unlike them, I have not seen the picture. My view is that stated by Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, that prior censorship of moving pictures like prior censorship of newspapers and books violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. If despite the Constitution, however, this Nation is to embark on the dangerous road of censorship, my belief is that this Court is about the most inappropriate Supreme Board of Censors that could be found. So far as I know, judges possess no special expertise providing exceptional competency to set standards and to supervise the private morals of the Nation. In addition, the Justices of this Court seem especially unsuited to make the kind of value judgments-as to what movies are good or bad for local communities-which the concurring opinions appear to require. We are told that the only way we can decide whether a State or municipality can constitutionally bar movies is for this Court to view and appraise each movie on a case-by-case basis. Under these circumstances, every member of the Court must exercise his own judgment as to how bad a picture is, a judgment which is ultimately based at least in large part on his own standard of what is immoral. The end result of such decisions seems to me to be a purely personal determination by individual Justices as to whether a particular picture viewed is too bad to allow it to be seen by the public. Such an individualized determination cannot be guided by reasonably fixed and certain standards. Accordingly, neither States nor moving picture makers can possibly know in advance, with any fair degree of certainty, what can or cannot be done in the field of movie making and exhibiting. This uncertainty cannot easily be reconciled with the rule of law which our Constitution envisages.
The different standards which different people may use to decide about the badness of pictures are well illustrated by the contrasting standards mentioned in the opinion of the New York Court of Appeals and the concurring opinion of Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER here. As I read the New York court’s opinion this movie was held immoral and banned because it makes adultery too alluring. Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER quotes Mr. Lawrence, author of the book from which the movie was made, as believing censorship should be applied only to publications that make sex look ugly, that is, as I understand it, less alluring.
In my judgment, this Court should not permit itself to get into the very center of such policy controversies, which have so little in common with lawsuits.