Freedman v. Maryland

LOCATION: Louisiana General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 380 US 51 (1965)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1964
DECIDED: Mar 01, 1965

Facts of the case

Maryland required that all films be submitted to a board of censors before being exhibited. The board could disapprove films that were obscene, debased or corrupted morals, or tended to incite crime. There was no time limit on the decision-making process. Ronald Freedman challenged the law as unconstitutional due to the procedures to obtain approval. He did not suggest that prior approval itself was unconstitutional.


Did the the Maryland law violate the freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment?

Media for Freedman v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1964 in Freedman v. Maryland

Earl Warren:

Number 69, Ronald L. Freedman, Appellant, versus Maryland.

Mr. Bilgrey.

Felix J. Bilgrey:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case comes to this Court on appeal from the judgment of the Maryland Court of the Appeals.

The judgment appealed upon affirmed a criminal conviction and a fine of $25 pronounced by the Baltimore Criminal Court.

That Court found Ronald Freedman, the appellant, guilty of violating sections of the Maryland Code which establishes the Maryland Motion Picture Censor Board and which make it a crime to commercially, publicly exhibit any film not submitted to that Board together with the amounted fee and which is not approved and licensed by the Board.

To put concretely, this appeal puts the question before this Court whether Maryland can compatibly with the First and Fourteenth Amendments impose criminal penalties on the act of exhibiting a film which as Maryland has here conceded, does not run a foul any valid First Amendment standard.

The question arose in this way.

The appellant, Ronald Freedman, is a lessee of a motion picture theater located in Baltimore.

He is on principle unsympathetic to the idea of censorship and I may add, he has had a series of disputes with the Board in which he's always come out on top.

He's always disputed the discretionary authority of the Board.

In at least one instance, as the record in this case indicates at page 15 of the record, the appellant have to fight the Board on a ban of a film which after many months in a great expense, he was finally vindicated on and this was a film like all others, he thought that he could in his judgment play without submitting to the Board to begin with.

It was against this background that Mr. Freedman decided in the fall of 1962 to test directly the authority of the Maryland Motion Picture Censor Board.

Accordingly, he called and this is at page 17 on the record.

He called one of the officials of the Board.

In fact, he called the Chief Reviewer and he told her of his intension to ignore or to defy the law that he would commercially exhibit a film without a permit.

And that evening, when in fact he exhibited the film, the Chief Reviewer was present and she caused Mr. Freedman to be arrested after the exhibition.

Now, he was arrested for the alleged violation of Section 2 of Article 66A of the Maryland Code which makes it unlawful and incidentally, that is at page 1 of our record.

Section 2 makes it unlawful to exhibit any motion picture film, and the statute is concerned with commercial exhibitions, in the State of Maryland unless the set film has been submitted by the lessee of the film and duly approved and licensed by the Motion Picture Censor Board.

I should like to point out to the Court at this time that principal provisions of Article 66A are set forth at pages 3 through 5 of our brief and that the entire article is reproduced as Appendix A following page 41 of our brief.

At some months later, Ronald Freedman was tried in the Baltimore Criminal Court on this charge.

And at the trial, we -- Mr. Freedman sought to introduce testimony which it admitted would have indicated that the Chief Reviewer, Mrs. Holland would have passed the film -- had been submitted to her.

However, the State objected to the introduction of that evidence.

However, in response to a question by Judge Darrell, he was the trial judge, the State made it clear that it would have licensed the film and that there were no objections to the film.

Now, at pages 2 -- I'm sorry, page 7 through 9 in our brief, we -- the appellant developed a testimony from the members of the Board of Censors as to how the Censor Board actually functions.

I mentioned that because I do not believe I will have time to take up that testimony but I would like to point out that among the things that Mr. Freedman demonstrated was that the Board takes in fees for every print that is commercially shown in a motion picture theatre in the State of Maryland and that the fees average about $30 for initial prints and about roughly $15 for sub -- for all subsequent prints.

Arthur J. Goldberg:


Felix J. Bilgrey:

Well, Mr. Justice Goldberg, my answer to your question would be that I suppose the city could have imposed a tax but that this tax is in the nature of a tax as this Court has struck and set aside in the Goldstein case.

I think this -- the sole purpose of this tax was to -- to restrain in advance all films.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Are you saying that (Inaudible)?