the fun of the Court

Sunday, May 23, 2004, at 05:20PM

By Eric Richardson

So I started this post Friday and didn't get around to finishing the research I wanted to do on it until now. Oh well.

Browsing the blogs at the bottom of the list at LA Blogs (the ones that don't ping updates to blogrolling) I happened across the Advice Goddess blog, whose latest entry mentions House Bill 4239, the "Parents Empowerment Act". Basically it allows parents to sue if their children come into contact with "obscenity".

You can see the press release on Rep. Hunter's site. The text of HR 4239 is also online. The law itself isn't worded to deal specifically with the Internet, but you can see from the press release that they do indeed have that in mind.

First thoughts: The case you have to compare this to is the CDA, which the Supreme Court shot down in Reno vs ACLU in 1997. The new bill looks to have learned some lessons from the CDA. First, it does include a definition of obscenity instead of relying on just the one prong from Miller.

The battle lines are going to be drawn over what constitutes measures that would prevent "a reasonable person [from expecting] a substantial number of minors to be exposed to the material." The CDA decision dealt with credit card verification systems as a method of keeping minors out. The Court ruled that requiring such a system would be overly burdensome for non-commercial sites. This law only applies itself to

any person who knowingly sells or distributes in interstate or foreign commerce an entertainment product containing material that is harmful to minors

To me that seems to only apply to commercial sites, and the Court's been a lot more favorable to imposing restrictions on commercial speech.

If this passes, I'm sure it will be challenged. If it is, it'll be an interesting opportunity to see how the mind of the Court has evolved in the six years since the CDA decision.

And if I hadn't been browsing the bottom of the blogroll, I would never have known about it.