Ban upheld on offering child porn
The Supreme Court allows a 2003 law dealing with 'virtual' child porn that some thought was too broad.
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"Just six years ago the court struck down a statute outlawing particular material merely represented to be child pornography, but not necessarily depicting actual children," Souter writes. "The court is going against the grain of pervasive First Amendment doctrine that tolerates speech restriction not on mere general tendencies of expression, or the private understandings of speakers or listeners, but only after a critical assessment of practical consequences."Skip to next paragraph
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He logged into the chat room and posted a message that he had "good" photographs of his 2-year-old daughter that he wished to swap for similar photos. An undercover federal agent responded and engaged Williams in a private Web chat. The agent identified himself as a 30-year-old mother with a 10-year-old daughter.
Williams and the undercover agent swapped photos. The children depicted in the photos were clothed and were not engaged in sexually explicit activities.
According to court documents, Williams tried to get the undercover agent to provide a more sexually explicit photograph. When it did not arrive, Williams posted a warning message in the chat room that the undercover agent was a cop. The undercover agent responded in a chat room message accusing Williams of being a cop.
In response to the accusation that he was an undercover cop, Williams posted a hyperlink to seven sexually explicit photographs of children ages 5 to 15.
Four days later, federal agents executed a search warrant for Williams's trailer in Key Largo. They discovered 22 computer images of children engaged in various forms of sexual activity. They also discovered that Williams lived alone and did not have a 2-year-old daughter.
Williams was charged with possession of child pornography. But federal prosecutors also charged him with violating the federal child-pornography pandering law for his Internet encounter with the undercover agent.
Williams agreed to plead guilty to both charges, but he reserved the right to appeal the pandering conviction. His lawyers said he shouldn't be held criminally liable for false claims made in an adult chat room.
In overturning the appeals court, the high court said, "The Eleventh Circuit believed it a constitutional difficulty that no child pornography need exist to trigger the statute. In its view, the fact that the statute could punish a 'braggart, exaggerator, or outright liar' rendered it unconstitutional."
The decision continues: "That seems to us a strange constitutional calculus."
Scalia said the 11 Circuit's reading of the law would forbid the government from punishing fraudulent offers to provide illegal products. "We see no logic in that position; if anything, such statements are doubly excluded from the First Amendment," he writes.
Responding to Souter's dissent, Scalia says the high court's holding does not overrule a 2002 decision in a case called Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition.