The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

What famous movie became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court obscenity case?

The U.S. Supreme Court determined in Jenkins v. Georgia (1974) that the film Carnal Knowledge was not obscene. The film starred Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, Rita Moreno, and Carol Kane. It was considered a Top-Ten movie of the year and even received an Oscar nomination. Justice William Rehnquist wrote that the film could not be considered obscene because it did not depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way: “We hold that the film could not, as a matter of constitutional law, be found to depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and that it is therefore not outside the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is obscene.”

Comedian George Carlin, whose “Filthy Words” routine led to the FCC v. Pacifica Foundation Supreme Court case, in which the high court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could prohibit indecent material in the broadcast medium. Ken Howard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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