South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Vermont Law Criminalizing Websites with "Sexually Explicit Materials" Stricken
Description Federal appeals court struck down a Vermont statute that made it a criminal offense to operate a website anywhere that could allow minors in Vermont to access sexually explicit or obscene materials. The statute was too sweeping in its coverage.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words First Amendment; Obscene Materials; Minors; Internet
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts When Howard Dean was governor of Vermont, he signed into law “An Act Relating to Internet Crimes,” which included Internet distribution to minors of sexually explicit materials deemed “harmful to minors.” The act would be violated by any website operator that posted materials deemed obscene. This included information about sexual practices. Numerous groups, including the ACLU and American Booksellers Foundation, sued Dean and other Vermont authorities. Plaintiffs asserted that the statute violated the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. They sought to have enforcement of the statute enjoined. The district court held for plaintiffs. Dean appealed.

Affirmed. The statute violates the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause and so its enforcement will be enjoined as applied to Internet speech. Any party whose speech could be regulated is permitted to challenge a statute based on the breadth of its coverage. The statute is too sweeping, as it applies to all websites providing sexual health advice, as well as those selling pornography.

Citation American Booksellers Found. v. Dean, 342 F.3d 96 (2nd Cir., 2003)

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