I Know It When I See It
How do you know when something’s obscene? It’s not exactly an easy question. Plenty of now respected works were, at one point, declared obscene and subject to judicial scrutiny - James Joyce’s Ulysses, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and George Carlin “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV” to name just a few. But how exactly does a court answer the question? And how can the layperson know, with any degree of certainty, whether something is obscene or not?
In this episode of Make No Law: The First Amendment Podcast from Popehat.com, host Ken White explores the United States Supreme Court’s approach to obscenity law through the lens of the landmark case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, in which we find one of the most well known lines in Supreme Court jurisprudence - “I know it when I see it.” With the help of guests Professors Philippe C. Met and Geoffrey R. Stone, Ken explores the rules set forth by the Supreme Court, their notorious ambiguity, and how they apply in the modern day.
Professor Philippe C. Met is a professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of French Forum.
Professor Geoffrey R. Stone is a noted First Amendment scholar, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, and formerly served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.