Issue 89, Spring 2003

  • The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the second time that a law prohibiting commercial websites from posting material that is “harmful to minors” is overly broad, not narrowly tailored, and impermissibly vague. The federal court had found the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) unconstitutional on community standards grounds, but broadened its ruling on remand from the Supreme Court.
  • In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments about the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which requires schools and libraries using federal funds to filter the Internet. A decision is expected by July.
  • The Copyright Term Extension Act was upheld by the Supreme Court by a vote of 7-2, (Eldred v. Ashcroft). The Act extended the time for works to enter the public domain by an additional twenty years. Free expression groups are divided on whether creativity is better nurtured by the prolonged protection of individual financial interests or the wider availability of creative works.
  • The federal racketeering law (RICO) may not be used to penalize political protests, ruled the Supreme Court in a case involving abortion clinic protesters, NOW v. Scheidler. The lower courts were wrong to interpret the protesters’ actions to blockade and disrupt clinics in the 1980s as demonstrating a “pattern of racketeering activity,” the Court ruled 8 to 1.
  • The Pledge of Allegiance may soon find its way to the Supreme Court as a result of a case in California, holding that the words “under God” violates the establishment clause.
  • As we go to press, the Supreme Court ruled in Virginia v. Black that states may ban cross-burning if the intent is to intimidate, although part of the Virginia statute was found unconstitutional because it presumed an intent to intimidate from the mere act of cross-burning, even if only meant as symbolic expression and not a true threat.