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Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition

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Citation Edit

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) prohibits "any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture" that "is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct," and any sexually explicit image that is "advertised, promoted, presented, described, or distributed in such a manner that conveys the impression" it depicts "a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct."

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Free Speech Coalition, an adult-entertainment trade association, and others, fearing that Congress's expanded definition of child pornography would endanger their legitimate activities, filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin enforcement of the CPPA. They alleged that the first provision, prohibiting images that "appear to be" children engaged in sexual activity, and the second, prohibiting speech that "conveys the impression" that the images depict minors engaged in sexual activity, were overbroad, vague, and had a chilling effect on their legitimate work. The trial court disagreed.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The appellate court reversed, reasoning that the government could not prohibit speech merely because of its tendency to persuade its viewers to engage in illegal activity. It ruled that the CPPA was substantially overbroad because it prohibited material that was neither obscene under Miller v. California,[1] nor produced by the exploitation of real children as in New York v. Ferber.[2]

Supreme Court Proceedings Edit

In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the two prohibitions described above are overbroad and unconstitutional. The Court found the CPPA to be inconsistent with Miller insofar as the CPPA cannot be read to prohibit obscenity, because it lacks the required link between its prohibitions and the insult to community standards prohibited by the obscenity definition. Further, the Supreme Court found the CPPA to have no support in Ferber since the CPPA prohibits speech that records no crime and creates no victims by its production.

References Edit

  1. 413 U.S. 15 (1973) (full-text).
  2. 458 U.S. 747 (1982) (full-text).

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