JOHN D. ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al. v. THE FREE SPEECH COALITION et al. | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

JOHN D. ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al. v. THE FREE SPEECH COALITION et al.

Supreme Court Cases

535 U.S. 234 (2002)

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Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether two sections of a law banning computer generated images of child pornography or pornography with adult actors appearing like children violates the First Amendment.

Action

The Supreme Court held that two sections of the law violated the First Amendment.

Facts/Syllabus

The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 prohibited “any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture” that “is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” This includes visuals that seem to depict children but are virtually constructed or use adult actors. The statute was successfully challenged for being overbroad and vague by The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry.

Importance of Case

This case affirmed the narrowness of unprotected speech categories in First Amendment jurisprudence, such as child pornography. The Court also stressed the societal importance of artistic expression. The Supreme Court agreed that the law was overbroad. The Court additionally held that the law went beyond the obscenity standard articulated in Miller v. California (1973) and would prohibit or chill serious artistic expression related to youth. Movies such as Traffic and American Beauty would run afoul of the law. Moreover, the court held that the New York v. Ferber (1982) rationale, which had held that child pornography is without First Amendment protection, did not apply because Ferber addressed images that were the result of child abuse, which is irrelevant in the cases of virtually-produced works or works that feature adult actors.

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