November 27, 1996 4:30 PM ET
Supreme Court action on CDA appeal on hold until next week
By Maria Seminerio

  The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear until next week, at the earliest, arguments on a government appeal of a lower-court panel's June decision blocking the Communications Decency Act, a court spokeswoman said today.

The CDA appeal was on the court's docket of cases up for possible review today, before the Justices left for the Thanksgiving holiday. However, the case had not come up for discussion when today's session ended, according to the spokeswoman.

The justices could begin deliberations on the CDA appeal Monday, or could then choose to throw out the appeal, the spokeswoman said.

The government said June 28 it would appeal a decision by a three-member panel of judges a week earlier that would temporarily block enforcement of the act, which would ban "indecent and patently offensive" speech on the Internet. Violators of the act would face penalties of up to $250,000 and jail terms of up to two years.

Many observers expect the Supreme Court to agree with the lower court, which ruled the act unconstitutional, saying it was too vague in its definition of offensive content.

President Clinton signed the bill into law on Feb. 8 as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and it was appealed the same day by the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of dozens of supporters, including a host of IT companies.

Commercial online services in particular have closely monitored the CDA case. Officials at America Online Inc., the largest online service, said this summer they feared the act would expose their company to a rash of litigation by possibly making it responsible for "indecent" materials posted by its users.

U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, a member of the Philadelphia panel that issued the 180-page temporary injunction, wrote that the panel's findings "lead to the conclusion that Congress may not regulate indecency on the Internet at all" because much online content is generated outside the United States.

The law was first proposed because of fears about children's access to pornography on the Internet. Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.), one of its sponsors, said in June that the act "stands for the premise that it is wrong to provide pornography to children on computers, just as it is wrong to do it on a street corner or anywhere else."

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