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American Booksellers Foundation v. Dean

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Citation Edit

American Booksellers Foundation v. Dean, 342 F.3d 96 (2d Cir. 2003) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

When he was governor of Vermont, Howard Dean signed into law a statute that makes it a crime to distribute electronic material “harmful to minors,” even if done over the Internet and even if done from, say, a website outside of Vermont. In return, Dean got himself sued — along with a host of other Vermont law enforcement officials — by the ACLU and others.

What the plaintiffs had in common was that they, or organizations they represent, operate websites containing sex-related materials. Though some of the plaintiffs were residents of other states, and actually have no presence in Vermont, they feared that they could be prosecuted under the new statute, because they have no way to deny Vermont residents access to their websites.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The district court agreed with the plaintiffs and completely enjoined enforcement of the Vermont statute. The State appealed.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The Court of Appeals agreed that the Vermont statute was unconstitutional for two reasons: because the burdens it puts on protected speech violate the First Amendment; and because it violates the “dormant Commerce Clause.”

However, the court concluded that the injunction was too broad. He reasoned “that because plaintiffs challenged the statute based on their own speech, it is preferable to determine the validity of the statute only as applied to that speech.” For that reason, Judge Walker agreed with Vermont’s officials that “the injunction should be modified to enjoin them from enforcing the statute . . . only as applied to the internet speech upon which plaintiffs based their suit. . . .”

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