United States v. American Library Association
|United States v. American Library Association|
|Argued March 5, 2003
Decided June 23, 2003
|Full case name||United States, et al., Appellants v. American Library Association, Inc., et al.|
|Citations||539 U.S. 194 (more)|
|Congress has the authority to require libraries to censor internet content in order to receive federal funding.|
|Majority||Rehnquist, joined by O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas|
|Dissent||Souter, joined by Ginsburg|
United States v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003), was a decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that the United States Congress has the authority to require public schools and libraries receiving E-Rate discounts to install web filtering software as a condition of receiving federal funding. In a 6-3 ruling the Supreme Court ruled that: 1.) public libraries' use of Internet filtering software does not violate their patrons' First Amendment rights; 2.) The Children's Internet Protection Act is not unconstitutional.
The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was passed by Congress in 2000. CIPA required that in order to qualify for federal funding, public libraries had to install Internet filtering software on their computers. The American Library Association, a group of public libraries, library associations, library patrons, and Web site publishers challenged this law. They claimed that it improperly required them to restrict the First Amendment rights of library patrons. The Eastern Pennsylvania District Court ruled in a 3-0 decision that the CIPA did in fact violate patrons' First Amendment rights. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, ruled on whether public libraries' use of Internet filtering software violated patrons' First Amendment rights.
Background of CIPA
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposed certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding under the E-rate program, which subsidizes internet technology and connectivity for schools and libraries. In early 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the District Court's decision, and upheld the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires public libraries receiving federal funds related to Internet access to install filtering devices on computer terminals that block a user's ability to view on-line pornography, as well as other obscenities that may be harmful to children. The Court reversed the judgment of the District Court that this content-based restriction on Internet speech was invalid on its face because available filtering devices "overblock" some constitutionally protected material, and thus do not meet the First Amendment's narrow tailoring requirement. The Supreme Court held that the public forum principles on which the district court relied are "out of place in the context of this case" and that Internet access in public libraries "is neither a 'traditional' nor a 'designated' public forum." A public forum is created when the government makes an affirmative choice to open up an area for use as a public forum. Libraries, however, do not acquire Internet terminals in order to "create a public forum for Web publishers to express themselves, any more than it collects books in order to provide a public forum for the authors of books to speak." The Court explained that the Internet is simply "another method for making information available in a school or library . . . [and is] no more than a technological extension of the book stack." The Chief Justice wrote an opinion for a plurality that also included Justices O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas. Justices Kennedy and Breyer wrote separate concurrences, and Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg dissented.
Justice John Paul Stevens dissented submitting that CIPA unlawfully conditioned receipt of government funding on the restriction of First Amendment rights because CIPA denied the libraries any discretion in judging the merits of the blocked websites.
Justice David Souter (with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joining) dissented submitting that blocking an adult's access to material harmful to minors is a constitutionally-impermissible content-based restriction on the communication of material in the library's control. Justice Souter argued that strict scrutiny ought to have been applied, and that CIPA would fail this test because it was not narrowly tailored enough to achieve the government's compelling interest in protecting minors from accessing obscene images without infringing the fundamental rights of adult library patrons.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that it was "disappointed" that the Supreme Court held that "Congress can force public libraries to install blocking software on library Internet terminals, but noted that the ruling minimized the law's impact on adults, who can insist that the software be disabled".
"'Although we are disappointed that the Court upheld a law that is unequivocally a form of censorship, there is a silver lining. The Justices essentially rewrote the law to minimize its effect on adult library patrons,' said Chris Hansen, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, which had challenged the law on behalf of libraries, adult and minor library patrons, and Internet content providers."
- Gathegi, John N. (2005). "The Public Library as a Public Forum: The (De)Evolution of a Legal Doctrine". The Library Quarterly 75 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1086/428690.
- Jaeger, Paul T.; Bertot, John Carlo; McClure, Charles R. (2004). "The effects of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in public libraries and its implications for research: A statistical, policy, and legal analysis". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 55 (13): 1131–1139. doi:10.1002/asi.20072.
- Siefkes, Darin (2005). "Explaining United States v. American Library Association: Strictly Speaking, a Flawed Decision". Baylor Law Review 57: 327–356. ISSN 0005-7274.
- United States v. American Library Association: A Missed Opportunity for the Supreme Court to Clarify Application of First Amendment Law to Publicly Funded Expressive Institutions by: Robert Corn-Revere
- Internet Censorship: United States v. American Library Association by: Martha McCarthy, Ph.D.
- High Court Hears Arguments on Library Internet Filters by: Tony Mauro
- Text of United States v. American Library Ass'n, 539 U.S. 194 (2003) is available from: Findlaw Justia Cornell University Law School