Janet M. LaRue

Parents and friends of children everywhere, in the spirit of Howard Beale, go to your windows, throw them open and stick your head out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”

After nearly 10 years of litigation including three appeals in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, two in the U.S. Supreme Court, and a full trial on the merits, judges have told Congress that the people’s elected representatives can’t really help parents protect kids from Internet pornography. And why, you ask? It would cut into smut-peddlers’ profits and discourage their porn-glutted customers who might be “chilled” at the thought of producing adult ID, such as a free access code, personal identification number, or credit card.

Sure. Just ask Amazon.com, for example, how commercially untenable it is to sell anything because customers are put off by producing a credit card. Last time I checked, credit card use is so widespread that credit card debt poses a serious threat to the nation’s economic stability.

In the third and latest opinion from the 3rd Circuit in ACLU v. Mukasey, the court affirmed a permanent injunction against enforcement of the Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA), which Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1998.

COPA, among other things, imposes a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for knowingly posting, for “commercial purposes,” World Wide Web content that is “harmful to minors.” It provides an affirmative defense to commercial Web operators who restrict access to prohibited materials by “requiring use of a credit card” or “any other reasonable measures that are feasible under available technology.”

Material that is “harmful to minors” is porn that the Supreme Court says is illegal to display or sell to minors, but is legal for adults.  That’s not quite the same as “obscenity.” “Obscene” porn is illegal to display or sell to anyone. In other words, some smut is more equal than others.

The definition of “harmful to minors” used in COPA is the same that courts, including the Supreme Court, have upheld numerous times. The 3rd Circuit now finds it overbroad and vague: “The Government claims that COPA is not overbroad, but it is clear that our prior decision in ACLU II binds us on this issue.”

For them, being consistent is more important than being right. Imagine judges admitting that they screwed it up the last time and need to get it right because protecting kids is more compelling than protecting porn profiteers.


Janet M. LaRue

Jan LaRue is Senior Legal Analyst with the American Civil Rights Union; former Chief Counsel at Concerned for Women; Legal Studies Director at Family Research Council; and Senior Counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families. Be the first to read Janet LaRue's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.

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