High court upholds child pornography law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a provision of a 2003 federal law making it a crime to promote or present material as child pornography.

A television camera is pointed at the Supreme Court building in Washington, November 28, 2005. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

In a victory for the Bush administration, the high court by a 7-2 vote rejected the argument that one part of the law illegally infringed on free-speech or other rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The justices overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that struck down the provision on the grounds the government cannot suppress lawful free speech.

Opponents of the law argued it sweeps too broadly and could be applied to popular award-winning movies like “Lolita,” “Traffic,” “American Beauty” and “Titanic” that depict adolescent sex. The government replied that those movies are not child pornography and would not be targeted by the law.

The provision bars the advertising, promoting, presenting, distributing or soliciting of material in a way intended to cause others to believe it contains illegal child pornography. Violators face a sentence of at least five years in prison.

The ruling involved a Florida man, Michael Williams, who was arrested in 2004 after he traded messages in an Internet chat room with an undercover federal agent posing as a woman.

Williams offered to trade photos of children with the agent and then posted seven images of minors in sexually explicit conduct. Agents then searched his home and found more child pornography pictures on his computer.

Williams was convicted of one count of promoting and one count of possessing child pornography. The Supreme Court ruling dealt only with his conviction for promoting child pornography.

The Supreme Court in 2002 struck down an earlier version of the law that included computer-generated images that appeared to depict minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Congress then adopted new legislation in 2003, which President George W. Bush signed into law, in an effort to comply with the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling.

Part of the reason Congress adopted the provision was to give federal authorities the ability to prosecute individuals for selling or trading computer-generated child pornography.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court majority, rejected the argument that the law was too broad under the First Amendment and said it was not impermissibly vague.

Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. Souter wrote that the court majority allows the new prohibition to suppress free speech that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham