The Supreme Court today said that a law aimed at protecting children from Internet pornography probably violates free-speech rights, but for the second time the justices sent the case back to a lower court for a new trial.
The court ruled 5-4 that a lower court was correct to block the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). But today’s ruling said the lower court should consider whether technological advances have made it possible to keep children from looking at “harmful” material online without compromising the free-speech rights of adults.
The court specifically recommended increased use of “filtering” software that, once installed on computers, can block certain kinds of content. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, conceded that filters are not perfect, but said that “content-based prohibitions” like COPA “have the constant potential to be a repressive force in the lives and thoughts of a free people.”
The decision is a temporary victory for free-speech groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, but it gives the U.S. Justice Department another shot at proving that COPA does not violate the First Amendment. For now, the law remains on hold.
Justice Department officials were unavailable for comment on whether its attorneys would reargue the case.
“Our society has reached a broad consensus that child obscenity is harmful to our youngest generation and must be stopped,” spokesman Mark Corallo said in a written statement. “Congress has repeatedly attempted to address this serious need and the court yet again opposed these commonsense measures to protect America’s children.”
Ann Beeson, who argued the Supreme Court case for the ACLU, said the court “has made it safe for artists, sex educators and Web publishers to communicate with adults about sexuality without risking jail time.”