Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the "harmful to minors provisions" of the Child Online Protection Act violate the First Amendment.


Vacated and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.


In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, this Court found that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA)-Congress' first attempt to protect children from exposure to pornographic material on the Internet-ran afoul of the First Amendment in its regulation of indecent transmissions and the display of patently offensive material. That conclusion was based, in part, on the crucial consideration that the CDA's breadth was wholly unprecedented. After the Court's decision in Reno, Congress attempted to address this concern in the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Unlike the CDA, COPA applies only to material displayed on the World Wide Web, covers only communications made for commercial purposes, and restricts only "material that is harmful to minors," 47 U. S. C. § 231(a)(I). In defining "material that is harmful to minors," COPA draws on the three-part obscenity test set forth in Miller v. California, 413 U. S. 15, see § 231(e)(6), and thus requires jurors to apply "contemporary community standards" in assessing material, see §231(e)(6)(A). Respondents-who post or have members that post sexually oriented material on the Web-filed a facial challenge before COPA went into effect, claiming, inter alia, that the statute violated adults' First Amendment rights because it effectively banned constitutionally protected speech, was not the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling governmental purpose, and was substantially overbroad. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of COPA because it concluded that the statute was unlikely to survive strict scrutiny. The Third Circuit affirmed but based its decision on a ground not relied upon by the District Court: that COPA's use of "contemporary community standards," § 231(e)(6)(A), to identify material that is harmful to minors rendered the statute substantially overbroad.

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