United States v. American Library Assn., Inc.
539 U.S. 194 (2003)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

UNITED STATES ET AL. v. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, INC., ET AL.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

No. 02-361. Argued March 5, 2003-Decided June 23, 2003

Two forms of federal assistance help public libraries provide patrons with Internet access: discounted rates under the E-rate program and grants under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Upon discovering that library patrons, including minors, regularly search the Internet for pornography and expose others to pornographic images by leaving them displayed on Internet terminals or printed at library printers, Congress enacted the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which forbids public libraries to receive federal assistance for Internet access unless they install software to block obscene or pornographic images and to prevent minors from accessing material harmful to them. Appellees, a group of libraries, patrons, Web site publishers, and related parties, sued the Government, challenging the constitutionality of CIPA's filtering provisions. Ruling that CIPA is facially unconstitutional and enjoining the Government from withholding federal assistance for failure to comply with CIPA, the District Court held, inter alia, that Congress had exceeded its authority under the Spending Clause because any public library that complies with CIPA's conditions will necessarily violate the First Amendment; that the CIPA filtering software constitutes a content-based restriction on access to a public forum that is subject to strict scrutiny; and that, although the Government has a compelling interest in preventing the dissemination of obscenity, child pornography, or material harmful to minors, the use of software filters is not narrowly tailored to further that interest.

Held: The judgment is reversed. 201 F. Supp. 2d 401, reversed.

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST, joined by JUSTICE O'CONNOR, JUSTICE SCALIA, and JUSTICE THOMAS, concluded:

1. Because public libraries' use of Internet filtering software does not violate their patrons' First Amendment rights, CIPA does not induce libraries to violate the Constitution, and is a valid exercise of Congress' spending power. Congress has wide latitude to attach conditions to the receipt of federal assistance to further its policy objectives, South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U. S. 203, 206, but may not "induce" the recipient "to engage in activities that would themselves be unconstitutional," id., at


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210. To determine whether libraries would violate the First Amendment by employing the CIPA filtering software, the Court must first examine their societal role. To fulfill their traditional missions of facilitating learning and cultural enrichment, public libraries must have broad discretion to decide what material to provide to their patrons. This Court has held in two analogous contexts that the Government has broad discretion to make content-based judgments in deciding what private speech to make available to the public. Arkansas Ed. Television Comm'n v. Forbes, 523 U. S. 666,672-674; National Endowment for Arts v. Finley, 524 U. S. 569, 585-586. Just as forum analysis and heightened judicial scrutiny were incompatible with the role of public television stations in the former case and the role of the National Endowment for the Arts in the latter, so are they incompatible with the broad discretion that public libraries must have to consider content in making collection decisions. Thus, the public forum principles on which the District Court relied are out of place in the context of this case. Internet access in public libraries is neither a "traditional" nor a "designated" public forum. See, e. g., Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense & Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U. S. 788, 802-803. Unlike the "Student Activity Fund" at issue in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 834, Internet terminals are not acquired by a library in order to create a public forum for Web publishers to express themselves. Rather, a library provides such access for the same reasons it offers other library resources: to facilitate research, learning, and recreational pursuits by furnishing materials of requisite and appropriate quality. The fact that a library reviews and affirmatively chooses to acquire every book in its collection, but does not review every Web site that it makes available, is not a constitutionally relevant distinction. The decisions by most libraries to exclude pornography from their print collections are not subjected to heightened scrutiny; it would make little sense to treat libraries' judgments to block online pornography any differently. Moreover, because of the vast quantity of material on the Internet and the rapid pace at which it changes, libraries cannot possibly segregate, item by item, all the Internet material that is appropriate for inclusion from all that is not. While a library could limit its Internet collection to just those sites it found worthwhile, it could do so only at the cost of excluding an enormous amount of valuable information that it lacks the capacity to review. Given that tradeoff, it is entirely reasonable for public libraries to reject that approach and instead exclude certain categories of content, without making individualized judgments that everything made available has requisite and appropriate quality. Concerns over filtering software's tendency to erroneously "overblock" access to constitutionally protected speech that falls outside the catego-


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Full Text of Opinion

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