Children, from left, Norma Marcano, 13, Megan Neilson, 13, Robert Ventura, 12, and Raffael Collymore, 13, all from Boston, use computers at the public library in the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston, Tuesday, June 24, 2003. The day before, the Supreme Court ruled that the Children's Internet Protect Act required public libraries to make it harder for Internet surfers to look at pornography and that the federal government can withhold money from libraries that won't install blocking devices. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, reprinted with permission from The Associated Press.)
Congress adopted the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 to require schools and libraries receiving certain federal funding to block children’s access to obscene material, child pornography, and material deemed harmful to minors.
The legislation impacted institutions that received funding under the government's “E-rate” program which was designed to expand technological access.
One provision of the law required that these institutions provide access to such materials for adults who needed it for bona fide research purposes.
Court upholds library, school restrictions on Internet access
Whereas the Supreme Court’s decisions in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) and Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (2004) had struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 as overly broad, it upheld the Children’s Internet Protection Act by a 6-3 vote in United States v. American Library Association (2003).
Led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, four justices argued that Congress was free to add such conditions to its appropriations.
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer joined this plurality by focusing chiefly on the fact that the law provided adults access to materials prohibited to children.
John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.Send Feedback on this article