Constitutional Law – Freedom of Press – Validity of Motion Picture Licensing Statute

The distributor of the motion picture “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” applied to the Motion Picture Division of the New York State Education Department for a license, required by New York law, for public presentation of the film. The application was denied on the ground the film was “immoral” within the meaning of the licensing statute. On review, the Board of Regents approved this determination, but on appeal the state supreme court reversed the Board. A divided court of appeals reversed the supreme court, holding that the contents of the film met the statutory definition of “immoral.” On appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, held, reversed. The opinion of the Court held that the statute was on its face an unconstitutional restraint on free speech, since, as interpreted by the state court, the statute required the denial of a license to a film simply because it advocated certain ideas, without regard to whether it incited to unlawful conduct and without regard to the method of portraying these ideas. Three justices, concurring in the result, after finding that the statute as interpreted by the state court required either obscenity or incitement to illegal action as part of the definition of “immoral,” went on to hold that the statute, constitutional in itself, was applied unconstitutionally in this case, since the contents of the film were neither obscene nor likely to incite to criminal action and hence not within the areas of speech which may be restrained by the states. Kingsley International Pictures Corp. v. Regents of the University of the State of New York, 360 U.S. 684 (1959).