Electronic Privacy Information Center

Communications Decency Act

Supreme Court | Lower Court | Other Materials


U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down CDA

Free Speech on the Internet Preserved in Reno v. ACLU

In a landmark decision issued on June 26,1997, the Supreme Court held that the Communications Decency Act violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. The Court's opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, resoundingly rejects censorship of the on-line medium and establishes the fundamental principles that will guide judicial consideration of the Internet for the 21st Century. EPIC is proud to have participated in this historic litigation as both plaintiff and co-counsel.

Post CDA

On October 22, 1998, EPIC, ACLU and EFF initiated a legal challenge to the Child Online Protection Act -- also known as "CDA II." For information about the COPA litigation, see EPIC's COPA Page.

Is Censorware a post CDA solution?

Background on ACLU v. Reno I -- The CDA Case

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and 18 other organizations, initiated the constitutional challenge to the CDA in federal court in Philadelphia on February 8, 1996, and sought a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional. The ACLU/EPIC case was consolidated with a companion lawsuit subsequently filed by the American Library Association and other plaintiffs.

On June 12, 1996, a special three-judge court in Philadephia ruled that the Communications Decency Act is an unconstitutional abridgement of rights protected by the First and Fifth Amendments. The Department of Justice filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case -- now known as Reno v. ACLU -- on March 19 ( see coverage from CNET and the San Jose Mercury News).

In a landmark 7-2 decision issued on June 26, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision and held that the Communications Decency Act violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

Supreme Court Proceedings

Transcript of Supreme Court Oral Argument (March 19, 1997)

On December 6, 1996, the Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction in the government's appeal of the lower court decision (see the ACLU press release on the Court's action). The government filed its brief on January 21; the plaintiffs' briefs were filed on February 20. Eleven amicus ("friend of the court") briefs were also filed in support of the plaintiffs (several of which are available online).

Main Briefs

Amicus Briefs

Preliminary Proceedings

Early in the proceedings, the plaintiffs in the ACLU/EPIC challenge filed a motion for summary affirmance with the Court, asserting that the decision of the special three-judge court was so clearly correct that full briefing and argument were not required to resolve the issue. The motion was denied.

Lower Court Proceedings

Other CDA Materials

  • Letter from the ACLU and other groups (including EPIC) opposing *any* censorship provisions in the telecommunications bill.
  • After its passage, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced S.1657, a bill to repeal the CDA. Read the Senator's floor statement explaining why the CDA is unconstitutional.
  • Materials on the Telecommunications Bill approved by the House of Representatives on August 4, 1995. The bill includes a version of the CDA, the Cox-Wyden alternative and the "V-Chip."
  • HR 1978, The Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act. House alternative to Communications Decency Act. Allows providers to screen "offensive" materials. Removes provider liability under Prodigy decision. Has unknown effect on private email. Was amended to telecommunications reform bill (HR 1555) on August 4.
  • S. 892, The Protection of Children from Computer Pornography Act of 1995. Dole-Grassley on censoring materials on the Internet.
  • Revised text of the Communications Decency Act approved by the U.S. Senate on June 14, 1995.
  • Sen. James Exon, chief sponsor of the CDA, explains his legislation (from the Congressional Record).
  • EPIC Statement on the Communications Decency Act.
  • Interactive Services Association Statement on the Communications Decency Act.
  • Original text of S. 314, The Communications Decency Act of 1995.
  • S. 714, Senator Leahy's alternative to CDA. Press release on S. 714.

We support the




EPIC Free Speech Page | EPIC Home Page

Last Updated: February 02, 2002
Page URL: http://www.epic.org/free_speech/cda/default.html