Last modified: June 13, 1996 11:30 AM PDT
CDA rejected in landmark ruling
[C|NET SPECIAL REPORT: Internet begins self-regulation | Decision may not be appealed | Supreme Court would likely back ruling | CDA supporters vow to fight | Netizens rejoice on newsgroups | Timeline tracks law's path | Attorney assessments on CNET radio]
A three-judge federal panel ruled yesterday that the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional.
In its decision to reject the federal law, the judges unanimously agreed to protect the First Amendment right to free speech in the landmark case of ACLU vs. Janet Reno, declaring the Internet the most participatory form of mass speech the world has yet seen. The CDA banned any online material deemed indecent or patently offensive that is accessible to minors.
"The Internet may fairly be regarded as a never-ending worldwide conversation. The government may not, through the CDA, interrupt that conversation," U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell wrote in an individual opinion submitted as part of the court ruling. "As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion."
The Philadelphia court also granted the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction against the law in a 71-page decision delivered by Dolores Sloviter, chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The injunction prevents any prosecution under the law pending an appeal, which both sides predict will be filed within the requisite 20-day period.
"While we were hopeful, this decision quite frankly is a rave review. This is more than we could have asked for," said an ecstatic Todd Lappin, an editor at Wired magazine, which was among the ACLU supporters listed in the suit. "What this means for the Internet community is that the chill is off. We don't have to worry so much about whether you're going to have a government prosecutor walking through your door because you used a four-letter word on the Net."
Supporters of the CDA said they were not surprised by the decision but vowed to continue their fight. "The reaction is not unexpected, given the liberal leaning of many of the federal judges at this level, and we fully anticipate this to bump to the next level, which is the U.S. Supreme Court," said Mike Russell, spokesman for the Christian Coalition.