Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union case brief

Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union case brief summary
542 U.S. 656 (2004)

Respondents, Internet content providers and others, brought an action against petitioner U.S. Attorney General, alleging that the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), 47 U.S.C.S. § 231, violated the constitutional right to freedom of speech. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, the Attorney General appealed the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit which upheld a preliminary injunction against enforcement of COPA.

The Attorney General contended that COPA, by criminalizing commercial Internet postings which were harmful to minors unless the age of the recipient was verified, served the proper congressional purpose of protecting minors.


  • The United States Supreme Court held, however, that preliminary injunctive relief was warranted since the Attorney General failed to rebut the providers' contention that filtering software was a plausible, less restrictive, and available alternative to accomplish the congressional purpose. 
  • Filters imposed selective restrictions on speech recipients rather than universal restrictions at sources, and filters also could block foreign postings which were not subject to COPA. 
  • Further, filters could be applied to all forms of Internet communications such as e-mail rather than only communications available via the World Wide Web. 
  • Also, the fact that Congress could not mandate the use of filters did not preclude governmental incentives for the development and use of filters. 
  • Moreover, practical considerations, including evolving Internet and filter technology, warranted preliminary relief from the serious chill posed by COPA upon protected speech.
The judgment upholding the preliminary injunction against enforcement of COPA was affirmed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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