Supreme Court Strikes Down Communications Decency Act

By Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Strikes Down Communications Decency Act


Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


Librarians, computer users, and civil libertarians scored a decisive victory June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled - unanimously in most respects - that the Communications Decency Act was an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights.

By a 7-to-2 vote the court upheld a ruling by a federal district court panel last year that blocked the law from taking effect (AL, Aug. 1996, p. 11).

The majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, said that the CDA was so broad and poorly defined that it violated the free speech rights of adults. "It is true that we have repeatedly recognized the governmental interest in protecting children from harmful materials," wrote Justice Stevens. "But that interest does not justify an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults."

Concurring opinion

A separate opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist found the law to be constitutional only in cases of deliberate transmission of indecent material "where the party initiating the communication knows that all of the recipients are minors."

Justice Stevens' opinion noted that in order to protect minors "the CDA effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and address to one another." In the past, he noted, the court had found that "(s)exual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment."

Justice Stevens also cited the vagueness of the law, which restricted "indecent" and "patently offensive" material. "We are persuaded the CDA lacks the precision that the First Amendment requires when a statute regulates the content of speech."

"The breadth of the CDA's coverage is wholly unprecedented," added Stevens, who pointed out that its "open ended prohibitions" arguably extend to "the card catalogue of the Carnegie Library."

"The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship," the opinion concluded.

The challenge to the law was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, a group including Internet users, publishers, and online service providers with ALA as lead plaintiff. They maintained the act was overly broad and so vaguely worded it would subject librarians and other members of the public to criminal prosecution for posting materials online that are legal in other media.

"The Supreme Court ruling means that Americans will enjoy the same access to information in cyberspace that we have on library and bookstore shelves. It means parents can decide for their own children what they do - and don't - want them to read," said then - ALA President Mary Somerville. "We believe that strict enforcement of existing laws, public education, and improved technology can address these concerns in a way that does not violate the free speech of adults."

Judith Krug, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said the court's ruling "recognized not only the importance of this new communications format, but also the importance of libraries in making information in all forms available and accessible to everyone. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Supreme Court Strikes Down Communications Decency Act
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.