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Justices consider Internet porn law designed to protect children



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court Wednesday struggled over the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress to shield children from online pornography.

In oral arguments, several justices searched for a way to protect minors in the Internet age without infringing on the rights of adults to have access to sexually explicit Web sites.

The court is expected to rule next year on whether it is possible to protect children from explicit Internet content, using what Congress called "community standards," without unconstitutionally limiting the free-speech rights of adults.

Arguing for the government, Solicitor General Ted Olson told the high court the law was carefully tailored to stop commercial pornographers from targeting and harming children.

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"The government has a compelling national interest in dealing with this desperate problem," Olson said.

In arguments on behalf of clients who produce sexually explicit material, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Ann Beeson said Congress can pass no law without unconstitutionally burdening the free speech rights of adults.

The 1998 Child Online Protection Act is currently on hold, following injunctions against its enforcement by lower courts. In suspending the law, an appeals court cited the requirement that the pornography must not violate "community standards" when the nature of the Internet is such that the same material is necessarily sent to all communities.

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the more liberal members of the court, repeatedly asked the ACLU attorney whether the issue could be resolved if the Supreme Court simply declared that a community standard meant a national standard.

Beeson said such a standard would be "an exercise in futility" and "unhelpful."

Justice Antonin Scalia, however, suggested that any geographic standard adopted would still be viewed by jurors through the values of their locality.

"Would it be possible for a North Carolina jury to decide whether something offends the standards of Las Vegas or New York?" Scalia said.

Olson said the government could live with a national standard, because mass media outlets have diminished local differences throughout the nation.

But the ACLU's Beeson said the solution is not a government formulation of how pornography should be limited. She said the answer lies in the use by concerned parents of commercially available blocking devices which can accomplish the protection of children the government seeks.

The case is the second involving online pornography and children that the court is hearing this fall. A case argued last month tests bans on computer simulations that only appear to depict children having sex.

The current case is Ashcroft v. ACLU, 00-1293.



Greta@LAW

 
 
 
 




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