Mar 5 2003
Supreme Court Strikes Down Porn-Shield Law
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a law meant to punish pornographers who peddle dirty pictures to Web-surfing kids is probably an unconstitutional muzzle on free speech.
The high court divided 5-to-4 over a law passed in 1998, signed by then-President Clinton and now backed by the Bush administration. The majority said a lower court was correct to block the law from taking effect because it likely violates the First Amendment. . . .
The majority, led by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, said there may have been important technological advances in the five years since a federal judge blocked the law.
Holding a new trial will allow discussion of what technology, if any, might allow adults to see and buy material that is legal for them while keeping that material out of the hands of children.
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with Kennedy. . . .
The ACLU and other critics of the antipornography law said that it would restrict far too much material that adults may legally see and buy.
"We're very pleased with the decision," ACLU lawyer Ann Beeson said. "The status quo is still with us and the court made it safe for artists, sex educators and Web publishers to communicate with adults without risking jail time."
The law, which never took effect, would have authorized fines up to $50,000 for the crime of placing material that is "harmful to minors" within the easy reach of children on the Internet.
The law also would have required adults to use access codes and or other ways of registering before they could see objectionable material online.
For now, the law, known as the Child Online Protection Act, would sweep with too broad a brush, Kennedy wrote. "There is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech" if the law took effect, he said.
In dissent, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer said the law is constitutional and should be upheld. . . .
The ACLU challenged the law on behalf of online bookstores, artists and others, including operators of Web sites that offer explicit how-to sex advice or health information. The ACLU argued that its clients could face jail time or fines for distributing information that, while racy or graphic, is perfectly legal for adult eyes and ears.
Material that is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment. Adults may see or purchase it, but children may not.
The case is Ashcroft v. ACLU, 03-218.
[TBC: The Bible says, “It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1,2). “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).]