In a landmark decision issued on June 26,1997, the Supreme Court held that the Communications Decency Act violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. The Court’s opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, resoundingly rejects censorship of the on-line medium and establishes the fundamental principles that will guide judicial consideration of the Internet for the 21st Century.
The Act was Congress’ first attempt to censor speech online. Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens held that “the CDA places an unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech” and found that all provisions of the CDA are unconstitutional as they apply to “indecent” or “patently offensive” speech. In a separate concurrence, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed that the provisions of the CDA are all unconstitutional except in their narrow application to “communications between an adult and one or more minors.”
The Communications Decency Act was passed in February 1996. The CDA imposed broadcast-style content regulation. Although well intentioned, the CDA was ineffective and failed to recognize the unique nature of this global, decentralized medium.