- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

A Supreme Court debate about Congress' ability to regulate the shadowy world of computer-simulated child pornography became a real-world discussion of the sex scenes in modern movies yesterday during an argument session over free speech, art and child pornography.
Does the movie "Traffic" appear to show adolescents having sex? the justices asked. Under a 1996 law challenged by pornographers and free-speech advocates, could someone be prosecuted for buying a video copy of that movie, or the films "Lolita" or "Titanic"?
All three movies include bedroom scenes of teen-agers or young adults, though their private parts are obscured.
The 1996 law at issue in yesterday's case forbids any visual depiction that "appears to be" children in sexually explicit situations, or that is advertised so that it "conveys the impression" that someone younger than 18 is involved.
Through high-tech wizardry or simple deception, pornographers can make dirty movies that appear to show children having sex but actually involve no real youngsters.
The Supreme Court must decide if it violates the First Amendment for government to ban something that appears to be one thing but is really another.
"I don't know whether they depict simulated sexual activity or not. I didn't see any of those movies," Justice Antonin Scalia interjected after about 10 minutes of movie discussion.
The court heard arguments in a borrowed courtroom for a second day yesterday because of anthrax contamination at the Supreme Court building. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said the court also will be displaced today.
In yesterday's case, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to uphold provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act in part to help "stamp out the market for child pornography involving real children."
Constitutional free-speech rights do not fully extend to pornography, and the Supreme Court has ruled that child pornography holds even less protection. The First Amendment does not apply because the "evil to be restricted so overwhelmingly outweighs the expressive interests, if any, at stake," the court ruled in 1982.
Outright use of children to depict sex acts is illegal, as is possession or transmission of illicit child porn.
Savvy pornographers have long fooled the eye with adults who look young. Their options expanded with the advent of sophisticated computer programs that allowed people to alter photos or create entirely fake images.
The Free Speech Coalition, the California-based trade association involved in this case, says it opposes child pornography but worries that the 1996 law will sweep up even law-abiding pornographers.
"The very crux of the matter is that even reasonable people may differ on what 'appears to be' a minor and what 'conveys the impression' that a minor is depicted," the pornographers' group argued in legal filings with the court.
The group did not challenge a section of the law that banned the computer doctoring of pictures of real and sometimes identifiable children to appear sexually explicit.
A federal judge upheld the law, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in 1999, ruling that the government did not show a connection between computer-generated child pornography and the exploitation of actual children.
Several other appeals courts ruled the opposite way, and the government asked the high court to resolve the differences.
The Justice Department argues that fake images could be used to entice real children into sexual activity.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide