The Supreme Court acted responsibly with its 6-to-3 decision to overturn a federal law banning virtual child pornography. Liberal and conservative justices joined in strongly defending, as they should, First Amendment freedoms that were inadequately protected in Congress's well-intentioned, but poorly written, Child Pornography Act of 1996.
The court had the option, as dissenters pointed out, of ruling more narrowly. That would have given much less leeway to porn producers who feel a victory has been won and the door opened wider for pandering to perverse adult sexual appetites thus putting children at risk. Now it's up to Congress to retool the law and prevent its overbroad application.
Justice Antonin Kennedy, writing for the majority, reasoned the law was too encompassing and could affect mainstream works such as the movie American Beauty, or even Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which are a far cry from the kind of explicit, morally corrupting images put out day and night on the World Wide Web.
Virtual pornography involves computer alterations of pictures or creation of images that make it appear that children are engaging in sexual activity. Ways to end this practice, and its further coarsening of society as technology creates scenes ever more life-like and real, must be found.
The Justice Department plans to bolster prosecutions of cases by using other existing obscenity laws. But those laws typically are more difficult to apply. Congress must now craft a better child-pornography law.
When virtual pornography becomes virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, it should be subject to the same laws society has deemed necessary to stem this morally corrupting commerce.