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American Civil Liberties Union v Reno

Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union et al.
138 L.Ed 2d 874

Facts: The Internet is a worldwide connection of computes that allows for the sharing of vast amounts of information and ideas. Some of which may be perceived offensive to some and the Communications Decency Act (CDA) attempts to mitigate the chances of such offensive material to be readily accessible or exposed to minors under the age of eighteen years. The CDA recognizes several ways to prevent such access by minors, through age verification. This can be accomplished by a national age certification program, by “clickwrap” which places the very first page as a filter and those who wish to enter an area where there is sexually explicit or offensive material must verify they are of eighteen years of age and also by registering with a credit card that enables age verification.


Procedure: Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Constitutionality of certain elements of the Communications Decency Act, particularly those seeking to shield minors from offensive material. A second suit was filed; this suit was joined into one suit. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania convened a three-judge panel pursuant to the Communications Decency Act, 929 F.Supp. 824. The panel entered into judgment a preliminary injunction against enforcement of provisions. The Government then appealed under the special review provisions of the Communications Decency Act

Issue: Does the Governments equally important interests in protecting children and fostering the growth of the Internet provide an independent basis for upholding the Constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act?

Pre-existing Rules: There are “two provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA or Act) seek to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet, an international network of interconnected computers that enables millions of people to communicate with one another in “cyberspace” and to access vast amounts of information from around the world. Title 47 U.S.C.A. § 223(a)(1)(B)(ii) (1994 ed., Supp. II) criminalizes the “knowing” transmission of “obscene or indecent” messages to any recipient under 18 years of age. Section 223(d) prohibits the “knowing” sending or displaying to a person under 18 of any message “that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.” Affirmative defenses are provided for those who take “good faith, ... effective ... actions” to restrict access by minors to the prohibited communications, § 223(e)(5)(A)


Holding: The CDA's “indecent transmission” and “patently offensive display” provisions abridge “the freedom of speech” protected by the First Amendment. Justice Stevens further states:
1. The transmissions of “obscene or indecent” communications to minors under the age of 18, were content-based blanket restrictions on freedom of speech, therefore could not be analyzed properly on the First Amendment Challenge “as a form of time, place, and manner regulation.”
2. The provisions challenged, were “facially overbroad” in terms of First Amendment violation.
3. In order to overcome the “facially overbroad” reach of the argument, the Government can change the Communications Decency Act by severing the term “or indecent” from the statute pursuant to its severability clause.

The lower Court’s ruling is affirmed.


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