The US government suffered another set-back in its attempt to reinstate the Communications Decency Act (CDA) last week when the Supreme Court refused to lift a preliminary injunction suspending it.
The Supreme Court's decision does not bode well for the government, which is battling to have the CDA reinstated after it was thrown out of a Philadelphia federal court in the summer for being unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully defeated the government on that occasion and is looking for a final victory before the end of the year.
The ACLU vs US attorney general Janet Reno case was filed in February after President Bill Clinton signed the bill. ISPs, lawyers, journalists and companies are among those to have signed up as plaintiffs against the government. ACLU is keen to have the case heard as soon as possible because, if it wins, it will be sent back to the trial court, enabling ACLU to seek a permanent injunction, which it would almost certainly obtain.
However, ACLU lawyers fear their case may have to wait until journalist John Shea's case is heard first. Shea, editor of the American Reporter, an on-line newspaper, won a case against the government which he filed in April.
Shea was himself in breach of the CDA for publishing an article containing several expletives. He is now taking his case to the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn the act.
The CDA is part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which Clinton signed on 8 February. It was introduced by Senator James Exon of Nebraska and was designed, according to the government, to deal with "pornographic and otherwise inappropriate material that could be made available to minors over the Web".
At the risk of tempting fate, the Reno case is looking increasingly weak. Shea has already won his preliminary hearing making it 2-0 against Clinton's gagging bill. PC Week predicts a massive majority against Reno at the Supreme Court hearing.
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