WASHINGTON — A federal law intended to restrict children's access to Internet
pornography died quietly today at the Supreme Court, more than 10 years after
Congress overwhelmingly approved it.
The Child Online Protection Act would have barred Web sites from making
harmful content available to minors over the Internet. The law had been
embroiled in challenges to its constitutionality since it passed in 1998 and
never took effect.
The Internet-blocking law did not make it as far as a high court hearing. The
justices rejected the government's final attempt to revive the law, turning away
the appeal in Mukasey
v. ACLU without comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union led the challenge to the law on behalf of
writers, artists and health educators.
"For over a decade the government has been trying to thwart freedom of speech
on the Internet, and for years the courts have been finding the attempts
unconstitutional," said Chris Hansen, the ACLU's lead attorney on the case. “It
is not the role of the government to decide what people can see and do on the
Internet. Those are personal decisions that should be made by individuals and
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia earlier ruled that the
law would violate the First Amendment, saying filtering technologies and other
parental-control tools are a less restrictive way to protect children from
inappropriate content online.
The act was passed the year after the Supreme Court ruled in Reno
v. ACLU that another law intended to protect children from explicit material
online — the Communications Decency Act — was unconstitutional.
The Bush administration had fought hard to have the law take effect.
In 2006, the Justice Department subpoenaed internal files from dozens of
Internet service providers and other technology firms, including AT&T Inc.,
Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., EarthLink Inc., Symantec Corp. and
Verizon Communications Inc. as part of its defense of the law.
But senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr. ruled in 2007 that software
filters work much better than the law would. Reed also said the law failed to
address threats that had emerged since it was written — including online
predators on social-networking sites — because it targets only commercial Web
The 3rd Circuit upheld Reed's ruling.
Critics also said that pornographers and others could simply base their
operations offshore, beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.
In an earlier test of the law, the Supreme Court in 2004 upheld an order
blocking its enforcement on the grounds that the law probably was
unconstitutional. The five justices who made that ruling remain on the
Still, it was unusual for the Court to allow a major federal law that had an
administration's backing to expire without a hearing.