|Subject:||US Supreme Court article -- 31 October 2001|
|Date:||Mon, 3 Dec 2001 11:09:01 -0500|
|From:||"Sandy Klein" <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
High court puzzles over porn
By Charles Lane
The Washington Post
Posted October 31 2001
The federal government says the 1996 law was a necessary adaptation of anti-child-pornography laws to new technologies. Without the law, the government argues, the spread of "virtual" child porn would make it easier for pedophiles to entice minors into sexual acts, and prosecutors would find it difficult to win child pornography cases if defendants could say their images were not of actual children.
Federal authorities have already employed the statute in several criminal prosecutions, which were upheld by federal appeals courts in four regions of the country. Eighteen states have similar laws, according to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by 35 state governments in support of the federal government.
A group of adult entertainment producers calling itself the Free Speech Coalition, supported by civil libertarians, argues that the law, which criminalizes material that "appears to be" of sex by minors or is promoted in such a way that it "creates the impression" the images are real, sweeps in too much legitimate speech -- such as, potentially, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita.
The West Coast-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with opponents of the law, ruling in December 1999 that it violates the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. The government appealed -- setting the stage for Tuesday's hearing.
Questions from several justices implied they were concerned that the law could be read to penalize sexual depictions that do not directly harm actual children, including those in some popular Hollywood films. The hearing provided a sometimes humorous look at the justices' tastes in art and entertainment.
Justice Stephen Breyer asked Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement whether Breyer could be prosecuted "if I go to a video store and buy copies of Traffic, Lolita and Titanic, each of which has a scene of simulated sex among 17-year-olds."
Such films would not be covered by the law, Clement responded, because they might have been made using body doubles.
"I didn't see any of those movies," Justice Antonin Scalia interjected.
"They were pretty good, actually," Breyer responded.
When the Free Speech Coalition's attorney, Louis Sirkin, began his argument by warning of the "radical, tragic consequences" of a law that, he said, could preclude artistic or educational depictions of adolescent sexuality, Scalia sounded a skeptical note.
"What great works of Western art" did Sirkin have in mind? Scalia asked. Sirkin mentioned the film adaptation of Lolita. Scalia responded: "Lolita is a great work of Western art?"
"Well, it received critical acclaim," Sirkin said.
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