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If Supreme Court cases were decided on the basis of hypotheticals alone, then the federal government’s latest effort to strengthen laws against child pornography would probably be found unconstitutional. On Oct. 30, Supreme Court justices peppered Solicitor General Paul Clement with some tricky what-ifs to test the scope of the 2003 PROTECT Act, which targets anyone who “advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits” material as child pornography, even if it isn’t really child porn. Considering the case United States v. Williams, justices had the most trouble with the word “presents.” What about a movie reviewer who says a film includes child porn, asked Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. “Nothing to worry about,” said Clement, though several justices still seemed worried. Justice John Paul Stevens asked about a documentary that depicts atrocities by soldiers in a war zone, including child rape. Could be a problem, Clement said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s cinematic contribution: What about someone who states that the 1962 movie “Lolita” shows a 12-year-old having sex with an old man? Clement dismissed that one, asserting that people viewing mainstream movies would know it wasn’t really a child actor.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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