Court delays CDA action

The Supreme Court takes no action after discussing the government's request to lift a preliminary injunction on the Communications Decency Act.

CNET News staff
3 min read
No action was taken by the Supreme Court last week after meeting to discuss the government's request to lift a preliminary injunction against the Communications Decency Act, but more talks were scheduled for Friday, December 6.

The Supreme Court has to decide whether to hear Reno vs. ACLU or put the CDA to rest by affirming the ruling of the Philadelphia federal court that issued the injunction. The court was expected to make an announcement as early as today, but because no action was taken last week by the Supreme Court after meeting to discuss the government's request, they will reconvene on Friday.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Attorney General's Office quickly pushed Reno vs. ACLU onto the Supreme Court's agenda. Both sides want to settle the question of whether the law violates free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The case was edged closer to the finish line Wednesday with the court unexpectedly meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday. But lawyers from the ACLU and the government said another case may hold up their show yet.

Joe Shea, editor of the American Reporter online newspaper, filed a case against the government similar to the ACLU's in April. The Shea case argued the CDA limits freedom of expression for the American press while the ACLU is more concerned with freedom of expression for everyday citizens.

ACLU staff lawyer Ann Beeson said Shea was invited to join the plaintiffs in the ACLU case in February, but that he declined. Shea fought on alone and won a preliminary injunction of his own from a Manhattan federal court. As expected, last week Shea did finally ask the Supreme Court to combine his case with the ACLU.

But now, the extra time the court may need to decide on Shea?s request could hold up progress for Reno vs. ACLU, lawyers from both sides said today.

"It may take longer," Beeson said Wednesday. "It could be today in the conference that they say, 'Isn't there another case and shouldn't we wait?? They could postpone until Shea is up as well."

Government attorney Ervin Gornstein agreed that Shea's request adds an extra component for the court to examine, which will likely slow its decision about whether or not to hear the case.

If the government is granted a hearing, it will begin making its case in late winter or early next spring.

The government's appeal came after the ACLU won its case in Philadelphia this summer. ACLU plaintiffs, who represent online users, content providers, Internet companies, and other organizations, filed suit against the CDA the same day the bill was signed in February.

A special panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia took extensive testimony from both sides during a hearing to decide whether to slap a preliminary injunction on the law, which the court did on June 13.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Philadelphia court's decision, the case will be sent back to the trial court and the ACLU will file for a permanent injunction.

The CDA came into being as Section 507 of the sweeping telecommunications reform legislation now known as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was signed by President Clinton on February 8. Introduced by Senator James Exon (D-Nebraska), the CDA was a response to a groundswell of concern about pornographic and otherwise questionable content accessible to virtually anyone with a computer, including minors, from the Web.

The law imposes penalties on anyone who knowingly "makes, creates, or solicits" and "initiates the transmission" of "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene or indecent, knowing that the recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age." Those found guilty under the law could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison and fined up to $250,000.