Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union

Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union

Litigants=Reno v. ACLU
ArgueDate=March 19
DecideDate=June 26
FullName=Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States, et al. v. American Civil Liberties Union, et al.
Citation=117 S.Ct. 2329, 2334; 138 L.Ed.2d 874
Prior="Prelim. injunction granted" (3-judge court, E.D. Penn. 1996); expedited review by S.Ct. per CDA §561
Holding=§223(a)(1)(B), §223(a)(2), §223(d) of the CDA are unconstitutional and unenforceable, except for cases of obscenity or child pornography, because they abridge the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment and are substantially overbroad. The Internet is entitled to the full protection given to media like the print press; the special factors justifying government regulation of broadcast media do not apply.
JoinMajority=Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. Amend. I; UnitedStatesCode|47|223

"Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union", 521 U.S. 844 (1997), is a United States Supreme Court case, in which all 9 Justices of the Court voted to strike down anti-obscenity provisions of the Communications Decency Act (the "CDA"), finding they violated the freedom of speech provisions of the First Amendment. Two Justices concurred in part and dissented in part to the decision. This was the first major Supreme Court ruling regarding the regulation of materials distributed via Internet.

The CDA was an attempt to protect minors from explicit material on the Internet by criminalizing the "knowing" transmission of "obscene or indecent" messages to any recipient under 18; and also the knowing sending to a person under 18 of anything "that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

Government's defenses of the CDA

The government's main defense of the CDA was that similar decency laws had been upheld in three prior Supreme Court decisions: "Ginsberg v. New York" (1968); "F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation" (1978); and "Renton v. Playtime Theaters, Inc." (1986); and that the CDA should be similarly upheld.

In "Ginsberg v. New York", the Supreme Court had upheld a New York statute that barred selling obscene material to minors under 17; in "Reno v. ACLU", the government argued that the CDA was a similar statute applying instead to the Internet. The Court, however, noted that the CDA was much broader than the New York statute, which allowed parents to consent to purchases; applied only to commercial transactions; and as part of the definition of "obscene", said the material must be "utterly without redeeming social importance for minors". (The latter echoed a requirement in the decision overturning a U.S. government ban on the book "Ulysses" by James Joyce 80 years previous.)

In "F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation", the Supreme Court had upheld the possibility of the FCC delivering administrative sanctions to a radio station for broadcasting George Carlin's monologue titled "Filthy Words". In "Reno v. ACLU", though, the Supreme Court held that this was not case law justifying the CDA, as the FCC's sanctions were not criminal punishments; and TV and radio broadcasts, "as a matter of history, had 'received the most limited First Amendment protection' … in large part because warnings could not adequately protect the listener from unexpected program content", as opposed to Internet users, who must take "a series of affirmative steps" to access explicit material.

Finally, in "Renton v. Playtime Theaters, Inc.", the Supreme Court had upheld a zoning ordinance that kept adult movie theaters out of residential neighborhoods. The government argued that the CDA was an attempt to institute "a sort of 'cyberzoning' on the Internet". In "Reno v. ACLU", however, the Court ruled that the "time, place, and manner regulation" that "Renton" had enacted was not similar to the CDA, which was "a content-based blanket restriction on speech".

Concurring opinion

Justice O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, agreed with the decision "as of 1997", but expressed interest in the idea of creating an "adult zone" on the Internet that was made inaccessible to minors through "gateway technology" that had been investigated by a lower district court. If such technology could be introduced, they wrote, zoning portions of the Internet to prohibit adult content could be as constitutional as such zoning is in the physical world. (See .xxx top-level domain. An alternate proposal promoted by free speech advocates claims that a ".kids" domain would be more feasible and constitutional.)

The two dissented in part, writing they would have invalidated a narrower portion of the two CDA provisions under review.

ee also

* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 521

Further reading

*cite book |chapter=Reno v. ACLU |last=Fraleigh |first=Douglas |title=Free Speech on Trial: Communication Perspectives on Landmark Supreme Court Decisions |editor=Parker, Richard A. (ed.) |year=2003 |publisher=University of Alabama Press |location=Tuscaloosa, AL |isbn=081731301X |pages=298–312
* cite journal | last = Leets | first = Laura | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2001 | month = | title = Responses to Internet Hate Sites: Is Speech Too Free in Cyberspace? | journal = Communication Law and Policy | volume = 6 | issue = 2 | pages = 287–317 | doi = 10.1207/S15326926CLP0602_2 | url = | accessdate = | quote =
* cite journal | last = Rappaport | first = Kim L. | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1997 | month = | title = In the Wake of "Reno v. ACLU": The Continued Struggle in Western Constitutional Democracies with Internet Censorship and Freedom of Speech Online | journal = American University International Law Review | volume = 13 | issue = | pages = 765 | issn = 1520-460X | url = | accessdate = | quote =

Research resources

* [ First Amendment Library entry on "Reno v. ACLU"]

External links

* [ decision at FindLaw] , with links to decisions citing this one
* [] Summary at OYEZ
* [ Netlitigation case summary and review]
* [ Howard Rheingold's testimony] as an expert witness

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