SCA files Amicus brief with Supreme Court in CDA case

March 19, 1997 12:00 am

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The Speech Communication Association (SCA) today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Reno et al. v. ACLU et al. This case challenges the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which was enacted by the 103rd Congress, signed by President Clinton, and immediately challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Library Association (ALA). SCA filed its brief in support of the ACLU-ALA contention that the CDA abridges First Amendment rights and should be declared unconstitutional.

In its brief, SCA argues it was inappropriate for the framers of the CDA to have relied on broadcast law as the basis for judging indecency on the Internet, for the Internet is not a broadcast medium. In fact, the brief asserts, the Internet is the next evolutionary step in an individual citizen’s ability to communicate ideas and opinions with a potentially large number of people, as well as receive responses to those ideas and opinions. In this way, SCA argues, the Internet begins to approach the “marketplace of ideas” envisioned by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the CDA “unnecessarily and severely restricts the ability of individual citizens to participate in the discourse so essential to the framer’s conception of the First Amendment.”

The key, the brief argues, lies in the interactivity of Internet communication. If someone locates information on the Internet and finds that information to be offensive, there are mechanisms for that individual to communicate that finding with the originator of the information. The same mechanisms allow the originator to respond, and potentially discussion and resolution will ensue. Such interactivity is generally not possible with broadcast media, which tend to be controlled by large corporate entities. In fact, the brief argues, the Internet comes much closer to the framer’s idea of a free press, where individuals can circulate their ideas through pamphlets or small newspapers that were printed by independent printers.

The Speech Communication Association was founded in 1914 and represents over 7000 communication professors nationwide in addition to 26 other countries. The principles underlying the argument are contained in SCA’s Credo on Free and Responsible Use of Electronic Communication Networks (1994), which states in part, “We support freedom of expression and condemn attempts to constrain information processing or electronic communication, especially expressions that are offensive to some or even most of the populace. Likewise, we support a right to privacy, both in the ability to maintain the integrity of individual message exchanges and in the ability to shield oneself from unwanted messages.” The principle drafter of the argument was Professor Joseph Tuman, San Francisco State University, co-author of Freedom of Speech in the Marketplace of Ideas (St. Martin’s Press, 1997); other drafters included Professor Bruce Gronbeck, University of Iowa, and Professor Dale Herbeck, Boston College. Raphael Winick, of the New York law firm, Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C., provided legal counsel. William F. Eadie, Associate Director, coordinated the project for SCA.

Copies of the brief are available on request from SCA or may be accessed on the SCA home page,

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