Yesterday's Supreme Court analysis

Lots of smart and insightful people have commented on the Supreme Court decisions yesterday (on Affirmative Action and Internet filtering funding in particular).  One worth reading: Philip Greenspun.  Particularly on matters of education, Prof. Greenspun does not fail to provoke.  There’s often a good measure of satire in there as well, but I’m not sure there is in his comments on affirmative action.  Shocking, gets you thinking, keeps you honest with yourself about why you believe what you believe.


If you’re looking for the opinion of the plurality in the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) case, it’s here.  CIPA does not exceed Congress’ authority under the spending clause, say the 4 justices whose opinions held sway. 

On the very important point about whether filtering software overblocks, the plurality opinion’s authors found sufficient the counter-argument that a library patron could simply ask a librarian to unblock the given site that the patron sought to access.  In a line that some law clerk had a great time writing: “…the Constitution does not guarantee the right to acquire information at a public library without any risk of embarrassment.”

Justice Stevens’ comments, in his dissent, about the First Amendment problems with CIPA ring true to me.  He wrote:

“Rather than allowing local decisionmakers to tailor their responses to local problems, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) operates as a blunt nationwide restraint on adult access to an enormous amount of valuable information that individual librarians cannot possibly review.  Most of that information is constitutionally protected speech. In my view, this restraint is unconstitutional.”

11 thoughts on “Yesterday's Supreme Court analysis

  1. Among content blocked: Anne Sexton, Super Bowl XXX, and references to Dick Armey. Okay, so the last one is not so bad. . .

  2. I don’t think that’s the problem. As I understand it, it’s not that the law is too specific, but rather that the filters overblock. This is from the John Schwartz, Librarians Size Up Internet Filter Law’s Impact, NY Times, 6/24/03 at A 27. Unfortunately, I can’t link to it, but it is available on LEXIS or Westlaw:

    “Both sides in the debate did appear to agree on one thing: the software that the government is requiring is far from perfect.

    “Filters don’t work,” said Maurice J. Freedman, director of the Westchester Library System in the suburbs of New York City and president of the American Library Association. “And they’re not going to work any better because the Supreme Court says libraries have to install them.”

    He cited a number of cases in which filters have blocked inoffensive information because search terms set off the protective software, including references to the poet Anne Sexton, Super Bowl XXX and Dick Armey, the former House majority leader.”

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