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

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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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