October 23, 2012

Cases of Interest to the School Community 2002–2003 Term

First Amendment

United States et al. v. American Library Assn., Inc. et al., No. 02-361

In United States v. American Library Association, the Court upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which provides that public libraries that receive federal assistance to provide Internet access must install software to block images that constitute obscenity or child pornography.

A group of libraries, library associations, library patrons, and Web site publishers challenged the constitutionality of the filtering provisions on First Amendment grounds. A chief complaint was that current filtering technology is not sophisticated enough to avoid inadvertently blocking non-pornographic sites. The Act seeks to mitigate that defect by permitting adults to ask the librarian to either unblock the specific Web site or to turn off the filter, but the plaintiffs contended that this remedy was burdensome.

Writing for a plurality of Justices, Rehnquist stressed that in his view, the law neither penalizes libraries that choose not to install filtering software, nor denies them the right to provide unfiltered Internet access. "Rather," he wrote, "CIPA simply reflects Congress' decision not to subsidize their doing so. To the extent that libraries wish to offer unfiltered access, they are free to do so without federal assistance."

Read the text of the Children's Internet Protection Act.

Read the appellant's brief filed by the United States to defend its law in the Supreme Court.

Read the appellee's brief that the American Library Association filed to challenge the law under the First Amendment.

Read the Supreme Court's transcript of the oral arguments in the case.

Read the Supreme Court's opinion upholding the law.

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