398 U.S. 960 (1970)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WISEMAN v. MASSACHUSETTS , 398 U.S. 960 (1970)

398 U.S. 960

Frederick WISEMAN et al., petitioners,
No. 621.

Supreme Court of the United States

June 15, 1970

Petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.


Mr. Justice HARLAN, with whom Mr. Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Petitioner seeks review in this Court of a decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court enjoining the commercial distribution to general audiences of the film 'Titticut Follies.' Petitioner's film is a 'documentary' of life in Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Its stark portrayal of patient-routine and treatment of the inmates is at once a scathing indictment of the inhumane conditions that prevailed at the time of the film and an undeniable infringement of the

Page 398 U.S. 960 , 961

privacy of the inmates filmed, who are shown nude and engaged in acts that would unquestionably embarrass an individual of normal sensitivity. The Massachusetts court concluded that the State had standing on behalf of the inmates to bring an injunctive action to protect their right of privacy and that the balance to be struck between the First and Fourteenth Amendments' 'commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open ...,' New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964), and the individual's interest in privacy and dignity was such that the dissemination of the film should be restricted to audiences of professionals, e. g., lawyers, psychiatrists, with a special interest. 356 Mass. 251, 249 N.E.2d 610 (1969).

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, Mr. Justice HARLAN and Mr. Justice BRENNAN are of the opinion that certiorari should be granted. Dissenting opinion by Mr. Justice Harlan with whom Mr. Justice Brennan joins.

The balance between these two interests, that of the individual's privacy and the public's right to know about conditions in public institutions, is not one that is easily struck, particularly in a case like that before us where the importance of the issue is matched by the extent of the invasion of privacy. As one Federal District Court stated in a case seeking to enjoin distribution of this same movie in New York:

    'The conditions in public institutions ... are matters which are of great interest to the public generally. Such public interest is both legitimate and healthy. Quite aside from the fact that substantial sums of taxpayers' money are spent annually on such institutions, there is the necessity for keeping the public informed as a means of developing responsible suggestions for improvement and of avoiding abuse of inmates who for the most part are unable intelligently to voice any effective suggestions or protest.' Cullen v. Grove Press, Inc., 276 [398 U.S. 960 , 962]

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