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The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a federal law that requires libraries to filter out pornographic material from their Internet terminals as a condition for receiving federal funds. The Court’s 6-3 ruling in United States v. American Library Association reversed a 2002 decision by a special three-judge panel sitting in Philadelphia. That panel found that the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) violates the First Amendment by restricting the ability of Web publishers to express their ideas and the ability of library users to obtain the information they need. The much-watched case dealt with the third attempt by Congress to restrict sexually explicit material on the Internet. In 1997, the Supreme Court overturned most of the Communications Decency Act, which banned Internet pornography, and in 2002, it struck down most of the Child Online Protection Act, which made it illegal for Web sites to transmit material harmful to minors. Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s June 23 opinion, which was joined by three other justices, rejected the First Amendment claims against CIPA. Rehnquist said that libraries are generally free to choose which books to buy for their collections and that, by analogy, the Constitution does not require that they make available all possible Web-based materials to users. Moreover, Rehnquist wrote, “A public library does not acquire Internet terminals in order to create a public forum for Web publishers to express themselves, any more more than it collects books in order to provide a public forum for the authors of books to speak.” In response to concerns that many Internet software filters are overly broad and block legitimate nonpornographic sites, Rehnquist noted “the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled.” Under CIPA, if a library patron requests, a librarian can eliminate the filter for “bona fide research or other lawful purposes.” Justices Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Clarence Thomas joined Rehnquist’s plurality opinion. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer each wrote separate concurring opinions. Both focused on the fact that the statute preserves the opportunity to disable the blocking software. This, they said, is a key factor that rules out a “facial” challenge to the statute — a challenge that targets the words of the law itself rather than the way it is applied. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that the “overblocking” of nonpornographic sites “is the functional equivalent of a host of individual decisions excluding hundreds of thousands of constitutionally protected messages from Internet terminals located in public libraries throughout the Nation.” Justice David Souter, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also dissented. Souter’s opinion focused on the argument that disabling the software filters is not automatic and that “some restriction” of library patrons’ access is inevitable. Souter said that CIPA therefore involves some form of government “censorship.” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of nine Republican members of Congress in favor of the statute, praised the decision. “This is a groundbreaking decision that represents a major victory and a break-through in regulating Internet pornography,” Sekulow said in a statement. “We’re delighted that the Supreme Court determined that the government does have a compelling interest to protect children from pornography on the Internet.” Paul Smith, the D.C. Jenner & Block partner who argued the case against the statute on behalf of the American Library Association, said the ruling “appears to be a very narrow one.” “If it turns out there is a real burden in getting the filter turned off for library users,” Smith said, “the statute could still be subject to an as-applied challenge.” In other decisions handed down June 23, the Court:

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