- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Supreme Court justices yesterday agreed to referee a rematch of the battle over Internet sexual material that may be available to children, assuring a second appeal involving child-pornography issues on the fall docket.

The justices agreed to hear a case titled Attorney General John Ashcroft v. the American Civil Liberties Union, a closely watched battle over whether "community standards" may be applied to enforce the 1998 Child Online Protection Act.

In a second attempt to bar material "harmful to minors," that law was passed in the wake of a decision weakening the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

The ACLU pronounced itself ready yesterday for Round 2 of its fight to nullify such provisions, even as the American Center for Law and Justice seized "an important opportunity" and entered the case on behalf of members of Congress to support the law´s original objectives.

"The First Amendment protects free speech but was never intended to permit the sale or distribution of porn to children on the Internet or anywhere else," said Jay Sekulow, the ACLJ´s chief counsel.

In other actions yesterday, the court:

• Turned away without explanation a voters´ challenge to changes in nine of Houston´s 14 city council districts, some of which perpetuate minority dominance.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the pending national reapportionment makes it imperative that the high court resolve whether its one-man, one-vote decisions relate to the total number of people in a district or to voting populations.

• Ended the long fight by some federal judges against deducting Social Security and Medicare taxes from their pay by ruling the broad Medicare tax must be paid while a retroactive Social Security tax unconstitutionally targeted federal judges, whose compensation cannot be reduced.

• Rejected an appeal by former Arkansas Judge David Hale, who said federal immunity should nullify his conviction and 21-day state sentence for lying to state regulators about the solvency of his insurance company.

Hale claimed he was prosecuted in retaliation for giving Whitewater-related testimony against President Clinton and Mr. Clinton´s former business partners in connection with a $300,000 federally guaranteed loan that was not repaid.

Child pornography already was to be argued in the first day or two of the term that begins Oct. 1 in a case testing whether laws against depicting real children in sexually exploitive material apply to "virtual children" created entirely by computers.

That case, Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, has drawn many of the same outside interests as the appeal accepted yesterday.

The law under attack in the ACLU case requires commercial Web sites displaying explicit material to collect a credit card number or access code as proof of age, and it defines indecency more specifically. It carries criminal penalties of up to six months in jail or civil fines of up to $50,000.

"We´re talking about material that would be harmful to minors. That is a test we have applied for years in the real world," said Robert Flores, vice president of the National Law Center for Children and Families.

"If you walk into a bookstore, the pornography is wrapped, or behind a blinder or will be in a place where it is difficult for young children to reach it," said Mr. Flores, whose group filed a brief supporting the law.

ACLU´s lead attorney in the case voiced confidence the court again will strike down virtually identical provisions that restrict the availability of material intended for adults simply because children may encounter objectionable pictures that are not legally obscene.

"We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate to the court that Congress has once again fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the Internet," said Ann Beeson, lead attorney in a case originally brought against the Clinton administration.


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