Top Court to Review Online-Porn Law; Critics Call Federal Restrictions on Libraries Overly broad.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank J. Murray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review the constitutionality of a federal law that punishes public libraries that don't block Internet access to more than 100,000 pornography sites.

Justices will hear arguments early next year on an order striking down the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA) as unconstitutional.

The case was decided by a special three-judge District Court in Philadelphia, and the Bush administration used an unusual fast-track provision to appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

The high court has blocked enforcement, on First Amendment grounds, of two other federal laws passed since 1996 to shield children from adult-oriented sexual material on the Internet.

This latest appeal by the American Library Association and public libraries contests a law that has similar goals but different methods, wielding the threat of losing federal funds.

Lawyer Janet M. Larue, who supported the law in the Philadelphia case for the Family Research Council, yesterday called that method the key difference from decisions that struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act and continued an injunction against enforcing the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

The CIPA challenge in effect attacks the federal right to cut off funding by taxpayers, even though it does not remove any material from the Internet or prosecute anyone for accessing it. The act affects benefits worth $100,000 or more to some libraries under the Library Services and Technology Act, and discounted Internet rates provided by the Telecommunications Act.

"There's no First Amendment right to access obscenity and child pornography with taxpayer funds," said Mrs. Larue, now chief counsel of Concerned Women for America.

"The court said adult patrons might be embarrassed to ask a librarian to unblock filtered sites. They created a First Amendment right not to be embarrassed, and applied the scrutiny reserved for constitutionally protected speech to speech that has no constitutional protection - obscenity and child porn," she said.

U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson echoed her words, telling the justices the lower court derailed a congressional effort to assure that federal spending "for educational and other purposes does not facilitate access to the enormous amount of illegal and harmful pornography on the Internet. …