Byrne v. Karalexis

PETITIONER: Garrett H. Byrne
RESPONDENT: Serafim Karalexis et al.
LOCATION: Symphony Cinema, Boston, Massachusetts

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 401 US 216 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 30, 1970
REARGUED: Nov 17, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1971
GRANTED: Mar 23, 1970

Alan M. Dershowitz - for the appellees, reargument
Edward De Grazia - for the appellees, argument
Nathan Lewin - for the appellees, argument and reargument
Peter L. Strauss - for the United States, as amicus curiae
Robert H. Quinn - pro se, for the appellants

Facts of the case

Serafim Karalexis owned and operated a movie theater in Boston that was showing a movie entitled “I am Curious (Yellow).” The film was produced in Sweden and is about a girl’s search for identity and her relationship to the contemporary social and political problems of the time. During the course of the film, she takes a lover, and the film shows their explicit sex scenes, including scenes of oral sex. Suffolk County District Attorney Garrett H. Byrne determined that the film was obscene because it appealed to a “prurient interest in sex,” was offensive to community moral standards, and had no redeeming social value. He charged Karalexis with violating a state statute that prohibits the exhibition of obscene films.

Karalexis sought an injunction in district court in order to prevent this prosecution and future ones under a law that he argued violated the First Amendment protection afforded to such films..The district court held that the law was likely unconstitutional and granted the injunction.


Can an injunction be filed to prevent the use of a state statute that prohibited showing obscene films?

Media for Byrne v. Karalexis

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 17, 1970 in Byrne v. Karalexis

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 30, 1970 in Byrne v. Karalexis

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments in number 1149, Byrne against Karalexis.

Mr. Quinn, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Robert H. Quinn:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This matter is here on appeal from an interlocutory order of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts under the provisions of 28 U.S.C 1253.

That provides for direct appeal from an order or judgment of a three-judge court granting temporary injunctive relief against the enforcement of a state statute.

Future enforcement.

Robert H. Quinn:

That's correct, Your Honor.

In our view, this appeal presents two equally important issues which ought to be finally resolved by this Court.

The first is whether the court below abused its discretion in enjoining the district attorney from prosecuting in the future on account on the showing off the film “I Am Curious (Yellow)”, which the court below assumed to be obscene.

The second is whether under this Court's holding in Stanley versus Georgia any state to unconstitutionally prohibit public commercialized dissemination of pornographic matter, absent distribution to minors, to non-consenting adults or by pandering the facts --

Thurgood Marshall:

What is there in Stanley that protects commercial distribution?

Robert H. Quinn:

That is not the way we read it Your Honor and I do not think that is the way the author of the opinion wrote it.

If you prevail on the first branch of your case, why do we get the second point?

Robert H. Quinn:

I think it's significant to get to the second point for the same reason stated by my brother, the distinguished Assistant Attorney General in the immediately prior argument, Your Honor.

And yet as Mr. Justice Stewart pointed out the substantial and irreversible point though in ourselves that I would say we will do but what was said that our Court exactly did, being in the pair with the state prosecution.

Robert H. Quinn:

I submit respectfully Your Honor that there exists now a great deal of confusion.

I know that --

Robert H. Quinn:

Among lower court.

You have to argue this case on some kind of principle and not just because it would say, it's nice to have a little certainty on time.

Robert H. Quinn:

I submit Your Honor that the principles exist in Roth versus the United States and the opinions following that and also in Stanley versus Georgia.

Potter Stewart:

But those issues will get here as to the state courts, won't they?

Robert H. Quinn:

That is correct, Your Honor but in the meantime, we submit that there exist a great deal of confusion and a chilling effect among law enforcement officials as far as the degree to which they can go.

Potter Stewart:

That's a switch.

Robert H. Quinn:

In reading the statue --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Tell me.

What is the standing of -- there's already been a conviction as I understand it, is that right?

Robert H. Quinn:

That is correct Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Of this distribution Mr. Attorney General.

Robert H. Quinn:

Yes sir.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And there was something about some delay in the hearing of the appeal which is in the supreme judicial court, is it?