Supreme Court rejects CDA
By Courtney Macavinta
June 26, 1997, 7:05 a.m. PT
BULLETIN The Supreme Court today unanimously rejected the Communications Decency Act in a historic ruling determining the future of free speech on the Internet.
In the first test of the new medium before the high court, the justices affirmed a lower-court ruling that the CDA was unconstitutional. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the decision for the court. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist concurred and dissented in part.
President Clinton signed the CDA into law as part of the Telecommunications Reform Act in February 1996, making it a felony to use the Net to give minors access to "indecent" material. The law has never been prosecuted because of ongoing legal disputes, but violators could have been sentenced to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A three-judge federal panel in Philadelphia ruled last July that the law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The high court upheld the Philadelphia ruling today, rejecting the Justice Department's argument that the government's need to step in and protect kids from online smut supersedes an adult's right to have access to such content.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association led the opposition to the law, arguing that it was too broad, vague, and infringed on free speech rights. The ACLU represents an alliance of nonprofit public-interest groups, while the ALA coalition includes publishers, and Internet companies, as well as civil liberties organizations.
Opposition lawyers will discuss the ruling in a press conference at 10 a.m. Pacific Time today.
The ACLU's challenge to the CDA was filed February 8, the day that it was signed into law. The ACLU, representing nonprofit advocates for civil, human, gay and lesbian, and free speech rights, filed the first lawsuit. The ALA filed another case on February 26, naming Internet companies, libraries, publishers, and users. The Philadelphia court quickly consolidate the two suits and lawyers from both organizations have argued the case.