US court won’t dismiss Internet porn law challenge

 

World National
©World National / Roger-Luc Chayer

US court won’t dismiss Internet porn law challenge

PHILADELPHIA, July 26 (Reuters) – A free-speech challenge to a federal law designed to protect children from pornography on the Internet is headed for trial next February after an appeals court panel refused on Thursday to dismiss the case.

A three-judge panel from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a government motion to dismiss the challenge to the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 that cuts off federal funding to schools and libraries that do not install software designed to block access to pornographic material on personal computers.

Three dozen plaintiffs, headed by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the challenge to the law in March, alleging it violated free-speech rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that installing the pornography-filtering software constrains the ability of adults to access lawful material, including Web sites of interest to homosexuals and women’s groups.

Government lawyers argued the challenge was without merit, saying the law did not constrain free speech but simply imposed conditions on libraries that accepted federal money.

Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the measure into law in December. It was the federal government’s latest attempt to control pornography on the Internet after two earlier attempts were stymied.

During arguments on Monday about the government motion, Chief Judge Edward Becker said the constitutional questions raised by the lawsuit appeared too numerous and complex to be examined without a full-blown trial, which was tentatively scheduled for Feb. 14, 2002.

« This case is unquestionably destined for the United States Supreme Court, is it not? … Wouldn’t this court and the Supreme Court be much better equipped to deal with this after discovery and after trial? » Becker asked.

« Obviously we’re delighted, » said Christopher Hansen, senior staff counsel for the ACLU.

« We thought all along that the case needed to go to trial and that a trial was warranted, » he said after the judges’ ruling.

Hansen said the ACLU expected to show at trial that there were alternative means to keep children from accessing pornography on the Internet.

A spokesman said Justice Department attorneys would not comment until they had seen the order. The Justice Department is representing the Federal Communications Commission and the Institute of Museum and Library Services in defending the law.

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