Reno v. ACLU Case Brief

Summary of Reno vs ACLU

Facts: Several plaintiffs challenged the constitutional validity of two provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which were implemented to safeguard minors from objectionable material on the Internet. The Act criminalized the intentional transmission of “obscene or indecent" messages in addition to information and images that were revolved around “sexual or excretory activities or organs." Because such materials are typically subjective in terms of what is deemed offensive or not offensive, community standards would be used to judge them. The government had been enjoined by the District Court in implementing the law, so Attorney General Reno petitioned the Supreme Court to decide the issue as allowed by the Act’s provisions for special review.

Issue: The legal question presented was whether certain provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act violated the First and Fifth Amendments by being too vague in their definitions of the indecent Internet communications.

Holding: The Supreme Court unanimously held that the provisions did in fact violate the rights of the original plaintiffs.

Majority Opinion: Reasoning that the regulations (provisions) constituted a blanketed restriction on free speech because of content, The Court ruled the provisions were in fact unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that the Act did not clearly delineate “indecent" communications, thus making the entirety too vague/broad. The Court did not address any Fifth Amendment issues.



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