Supreme Court to Consider Internet Pornography Law; Critics Say Law Could Block Access to Sexual Health Information
October 15, 2003
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 law intended to block minors from accessing "sexually explicit" material on the Internet but that critics say could prevent teenagers and adults from accessing sexual health information, the Los Angeles Times reports (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 10/15). COPA makes it a crime for a commercial Web site to post material that is "harmful to minors" in a place where people under age 17 can gain access to it, unless the site makes a "good faith effort" to screen out all but adult users, according to the Washington Post (Lane, Washington Post, 10/15). First-time violators of COPA could be sentenced to six months in jail and a $50,000 fine, according to the AP/Miami Herald (AP/Miami Herald, 10/15). The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March ruled the law unconstitutional for the second time, but the Bush administration appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The circuit court initially struck down the law, which has never taken effect, for relying on "community standards" to determine what amounted to sexually explicit material, a stipulation that the court said would give the "most conservative community in the country a veto over all others," according to the Post. The Bush administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, which was divided on the issue and decided to send the case back to the 3rd Circuit for reconsideration (Washington Post, 10/15). In March, the 3rd Circuit said that COPA is "too broad" and would block too much material that would be appropriate for adults, according to the New York Times. The court also said that the law's definition of a minor as someone from birth to age 17 is too vague to meet the First Amendment requirement of "narrow tailoring" for speech restrictions (Greenhouse, New York Times, 10/15). Oral arguments in the case -- Ashcroft v. ACLU -- will be heard in early 2004 and a decision is expected by July 2004 (Washington Post, 10/15).
Law Could Block Safe Sex, Gynecological Information
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