ACLU v Reno: Update
Judge Grants Temporary Restraining Order on Indecency Provisions;
ACLU Claims Partial Victory, But Warns Netizens to Beware
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 15, 1996
* Judge Agrees with ACLU that vague "indecency" provisions are unconstitutional
* Denies TRO on "patently offensive" material
* Denies TRO on Comstock law abortion provisions, asserting "no irreparable harm"
* Three-judge panel convened for a full hearing on the case
1. In the first ruling on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, federal Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter today granted a temporary restraining order enjoining the government from prosecuting so-called indecency on the Internet.
2. The judge denied, with minimal comment, the motions for restraining orders on prosecution for "patently offensive material" and on the "Comstock Law" provisions of the act. ACLU Attorney Chris Hansen, who is leading the litigation, said that while the judge's ruling recognized the need for robust speech on the Internet, the line was drawn in the wrong place regarding the other censorship provisions of the law. He added that the government would now be free to prosecute on those grounds and that the Internet community should beware.
3. In denying the TRO on the Comstock provision of the law, Judge Buckwalter stated that plaintiffs would not suffer any immediate harm. The judge found a basis for this assertion in a letter to Vice President Gore in which Attorney General Janet Reno conceded that the provision is unconstitutional. Laura Abel, an attorney for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project and a litigator on the case, noted that the letter is not a legally binding document and the Justice Department remains free to prosecute at any future time.
4. A three-judge panel was convened to hear the case, although a date was not yet set. The judges on the panel are: Chief Judge Dolores K. Sloviter, Judge Stuart Dalzell, and Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter. Attorney Chris Hansen said that he was hopeful that the court would ultimately rule that the "patently offensive" and Comstock law restrictions were equally damaging to First Amendment rights.
Complete information on the lawsuit, including Judge Buckwalter's ruling, is available via ACLU's new "Freedom Network" World Wide Web page, and via the ACLU's Constitution Hall forum on America Online.