United States v. American Library Association, Inc., 539 U.S. 194, 4 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 194 (2003)


late the First Amendment, but would reach that ultimate conclusion through a different approach. Because the statute raises special First Amendment concerns, he would not require only a "rational basis" for the statute's restrictions. At the same time, "strict scrutiny" is not warranted, for such a limiting and rigid test would unreasonably interfere with the discretion inherent in the "selection" of a library's collection. Rather, he would examine the constitutionality of the statute's restrictions as the Court has examined speech-related restrictions in other contexts where circumstances call for heightened, but not "strict," scrutiny—where, for example, complex, competing constitutional interests are potentially at issue or speech-related harm is potentially justified by unusually strong governmental interests. The key question in such instances is one of proper fit. The Court has asked whether the harm to speech-related interests is disproportionate in light of both the justifications and the potential alternatives. It has considered the legitimacy of the statute's objective, the extent to which the statute will tend to achieve that objective, whether there are other, less restrictive ways of achieving that objective, and ultimately whether the statute works speech-related harm that is out of proportion to that objective. The statute's restrictions satisfy these constitutional demands. Its objectives—of restricting access to obscenity, child pornography, and material that is comparably harmful to minors—are "legitimate," and indeed often "compelling." No clearly superior or better fitting alternative to Internet software filters has been presented. Moreover, the statute contains an important exception that limits the speech-related harm: It allows libraries to permit any adult patron access to an "overblocked" Web site or to disable the software filter entirely upon request. Given the comparatively small burden imposed upon library patrons seeking legitimate Internet materials, it cannot be said that any speech-related harm that the statute may cause is disproportionate when considered in relation to the statute's legitimate objectives. Pp. 215-220.

Rehnquist, C. J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., post, p. 214, and Breyer, J., post, p. 215, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 220. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, post, p. 231.

Solicitor General Olson argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General


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