Ashcroft v. ACLU

Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 124 S. Ct. 2783 (2004)

• U.S. Court of Appeals upheld preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act
• Ashcroft appealed to the Supreme Court
• Congress sought to protect minors from sexually explicit content on the Internet and passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).
• COPA imposed criminal penalties for posting material “harmful to minors” for “commercial purposes”
• What constituted harm to minors was broadly defined in the statute
• The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the constitutionality of the statute on First Amendment grounds and obtained a preliminary injunction to prevent Attorney General Ashcroft form enforcing it.
• Under COPA, adults had to prove age through the use of several software screens prior to accessing commercial pornography
• ACLU argued that this was an unconstitutional restriction on speech.

• Less restrictive alternatives should be employed when the government seeks to restrict content based speech

Content-based restrictions are presumed invalid unless the government can justify them by meeting the burden of proving constitutionality. The government has not been able to meet that burden here because it cannot justify the statute in the face of several less restrictive alternatives. Filters, For example, could be installed on computers allowing adults to monitor the internet content for their children rather than the government monitoring the internet content for everyone. As the government cannot meets its burden, the District Court did not err in granting the preliminary injunction

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