Jenner & Block

Firm Makes Successful Argument in Supreme Court's First Foray into Internet First Amendment Issues

In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.”  Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said.  As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community." 

TAGS: 1995-2004, B Ennis, Internet, Supreme Court, Video

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