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Jenkins v. Georgia

Defining Obscenity

Clearly, the Court had no choice but to overturn Jenkins' conviction. "It would be a serious misreading of Miller," Rehnquist warned, "to conclude that juries have unbridled discretion in determining what is `patently offensive' . . . "

Justice Brennan, who had long objected to obscenity laws on the grounds that they almost all violated the First Amendment, added an opinion to the case that was basically a way of saying, "I told you so." Brennan pointed out that Miller, which was supposed to render obscenity questions into mere questions of fact, had obviously failed. Clearly, local juries would give their own opinions--as they had done in finding Carnal Knowledge obscene--and then the Supreme Court would have to come along and correct these problematic, perhaps even absurd, decisions. Thus, wrote Brennan, " . . . the Court's new formulation does not extricate us from the mire of case-by-case determinations of obscenity."

Reactions to the case from movie-makers was likewise mixed. "It appears clear that the freedom of the filmmaker to tell an honest story without hard-core pornography has been upheld," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association. But Peter M. Fishbein, attorney for the National Association of Theater Owners, objected. "There's a long spectrum from Carnal Knowledge to a stag movie, and we are disappointed that the Supreme Court hasn't clarified standards for the area in between."

In determining the final results of Jenkins v. Georgia, it is helpful to look at the amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs that were filed in support of each side. Those urging that the Georgia obscenity law be struck down included the National Association of Theatre Owners, the Adult Film Association of America, the Directors Guild of America, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the Council for Periodical Distributors Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the Authors League of America. The one brief supporting the obscenity law was filed by Charles H. Keating, Jr., the anti-pornography crusader who later targeted Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine, and who later still was involved in the savings and loan scandal.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Jenkins v. Georgia - Significance, "i Know It When I See It", An "obscenely Boring" Film, Defining Obscenity