Supreme Court denies final COPA appeal

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The U. S. Supreme Court decided Jan. 21 that it would not hear arguments against a lower-court ruling that found the Child Online Protection Act to be unconstitutional. COPA has twice before come before the Supreme Court.

In its refusal, the court did not comment on the ruling, which effectively ended a legal battle that has been underway for more than 10 years.

Congress passed COPA in October 1998 and President Clinton signed it into law.

COPA would have forced all Web sites that contain material that could be deemed “harmful to minors” to verify the age of their site visitors by requesting credit-card information or by other means. The potential harm that Web sites could inflict on minors would be subject to “contemporary community standards,” which opponents argued could have prevented youth from accessing vital sexual-health information and LGBT resources.

Several plaintiffs, including PGN, filed suit in 1998 and the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an injunction, banning the federal government from enforcing the law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Department of Justice’s appeal in 1999, finding that the provisions of the law were too vague.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that COPA could be unconstitutional if other technology could be utilized to prevent children from viewing objectionable sites, and the case went back to the Third Circuit, which ruled the next year that COPA was unconstitutional and violated citizens’ right to free speech.

In 2004, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the District Court, where a judge ruled in 2007 that COPA violated the First and Fifth Amendments.

The DOJ appealed this ruling and, in July, the Third Circuit again affirmed the unconstitutionality of the law.

Congress passed COPA one year after the Supreme Court ruled that a similar bill, the Communications Decency Act, was unconstitutional.

— Jen Colletta