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June 23, 2003

Decided: United States v. American Library Association, 02-361

The Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 in favor of internet filters in libraries as a condition for federal funding ("Effort to Equip Libraries With Internet Filters Is Allowed" - NYT/AP, 6/23/03). The opinion was written by Rehnquist and joined by O'Connor, Scalia and Thomas. Kennedy and Breyer wrote separate opinions that allow filters so long as library users have the option for the filters to be disabled. Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg dissented.

In his dissent, Stevens writes, "...a statutory blunderbuss that mandates this vast amount of overblocking abridges the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.'' The filtering software better make it much easier for librarians to disable and re-enable the software, since they'll be running from behind the reference desk every time someone new sits down to use the computer.

I wonder, does the law require that all computers have filtering installed in order for a library to get federal funding? Or can computers be set aside (filtered/unfiltered) so people can choose which to use? As if most libraries are flush enough with money that they can even set aside computers for separate users.

Yours, &c., LC | 12:47 PM | Legal , Librariana | Comments (1)


An html posting of the opinions can be found here. Note that Rehnquist's opinion is a judgment of the Court, rather than an opinion of the Court, as his opinion is joined by only three justices. The disposition is joined by Kennedy and Breyer.

Following the Marks v United States "narrowest grounds" doctrine, this means that the holding in this case is in the opinion which concurred in the judgment while taking the narrowest position, which I think is Justice Kennedy's. Kennedy's opinion explicitly leaves open an "as applied" challenge if it can be shown that the requirements of the act substantially burden the access of adult users to protected materials.

Posted by: Scott at June 23, 2003 01:40 PM