Citation: Ashcroft v. ACLU 542 U.S. 656. 2004. Cornell Law School. 4 April 2009. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-218.ZS.html>.
This document is a Supreme Court decision that ruled the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) unconstitutional. COPA, a law passed by Congress, established a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for knowingly posting content online for commercial purposes that is harmful to minors. A person could avoid conviction for posting such content by making a concerted effort to have prevented minors from having access to the content. The justices ruled that COPA was unconstitutional because it restricted some speech protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution. The definition of content harmful to minors is broader than the definition of obscenity, which is the type of speech not protected by the first amendment. In the decision, Justice Kennedy also wrote that there were probably more effective alternatives to govermental regulation, such as encouraging parents to use filtering software. According to the majority opinion, the government is only allowed to restrict free speech as much as it is absolutely necessary to achieve its desired goal, and there was no proof that free-speech had to have been curtailed as much as it was in COPA in order to protect children.
Ashcroft v. ACLU is important because it helped to define the legal restrictions on governmental regulation of Internet content for purposes of protecting children. This case is similar to Reno v. ACLU in that laws were struck down on first amendment grounds because they restricted types of protected speech. Congress tried to fix the mistakes it made with the CDA by having COPA apply to material harmful to minors, rather than to indecent material. However, the Supreme Court still thought that content harmful to minors was too broad a terminology using a strict scrutiny approach to the law. The court case is also relevant to my paper because it explains how the government could legally help regulate Internet content. By suggesting Congress protect children from potentially threatening content by promoting use of filtering software, Kennedy is essentially laying out for Congress what he believes to be the most constitutionally acceptable method of governmental online content-regulation. Note that by promoting filtering, the government would be indirectly involved with regulation, implying the government cannot fix the problem of youth exposure to harmful content alone.