Sometimes, even the best intentions produce overly-broad laws that cannot be enforced or that violate the First Amendment rights of innocent parties. Last year, Alaska passed Senate Bill 222 with the intent to protect minors, but the language of the law put an unreasonable burden on internet users, including comic book creators and retailers selling at both brick and mortar stores and online.
CBLDF joined the Media Coalition and a variety of plaintiffs from Alaska in challenging the law. Alaska’s KTUU highlighted the Media Coalition’s efforts to refine the language of the law and bring the law into alignment with the First Amendment before its passage. You can read a summary of these efforts here.
Despite the Media Coalition’s efforts, the Alaska Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 222. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline struck down multiple provisions of the law, citing violation of the First Amendment.
Alaska Public Radio’s Ellen Lockyer spoke with David Cheezum, co-owner of Fireside Books, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, about the burden the law would have placed on retailers had it stood:
Either your website or your store clerk have to know two things: to know the content of the books…of every book you’re selling and…to be able to read the minds of the people you’re selling the books to, to know…what their parents want them to read, what their parents don’t want them to read.
Lockyer also spoke with Anchorage attorney John McKay, who worked on the suit:
…if you keep the internet be a vehicle of communicating information that is only fit for children to receive, then that really restricts — unnecessarily and inappropriately — lots of communications that are entirely legal and appropriate for adults.
I think it’s the right result. A lot of times it can be unpopular defending…language that’s indecent or inappropriate but…the First Amendment protects unpopular speech, it protects speech that’s not right for everyone. But particularly, as is the case here, to try and limit speech to what’s appropriate for children really puts booksellers at risk if they can be held accountable for the contents of every book.
You can listen to Lockyer’s full report here.
CBLDF applauds this latest victory for the First Amendment! Please support the CBLDF’s defense of free speech issues like this by making a donation today!