United States v. American Library Assn., Inc.

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:American Library Assn., Inc.
LOCATION:White House

DOCKET NO.: 02-361
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 539 US 194 (2003)
ARGUED: Mar 05, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 23, 2003

Paul M. Smith – Argued the cause for the respondents
Theodore B. Olson – Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, requiring public libraries to install internet filtering software on their computers in order to qualify for federal funding. The American Library Association and others challenged the law, claiming that it improperly required them to restrict the First Amendment rights of their patrons. As stipulated by the law, a three judge panel heard the case, and ruled unanimously that the CIPA violated the First Amendment.


Does Congress have the authority to require libraries to censor internet content in order to receive federal funding?

Media for United States v. American Library Assn., Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 05, 2003 in United States v. American Library Assn., Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 23, 2003 in United States v. American Library Assn., Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinions of the Court to announce in two cases.

The first one is 02-361, United States versus American Library Association.

In this case I have an opinion and the judgment of the court to announce.

Congress provides public libraries with two forms of federal assistance to help them provide internet access.

Upon discovering that library patrons including minors regularly search the internet for pornography, Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act or CIPA which forbids public libraries from receiving federal assistance for internet access unless they install software to block obscene or pornographic images and to prevent minors from having access to harmful material.

They appellees challenged the constitutionality of CIPA’s filtering provisions in District Court.

The District Court held with Congress at exceeded its authority under the Spending Clause because any public library that complied with CIPA would necessarily violate the First Amendment that the filtering software is content-based restriction on access to a public forum and that CIPA’s filtering provisions do not survive strict scrutiny.

We noted probable jurisdiction and in an opinion filed today with the Clerk, we reverse.

Because public libraries use of filtering software does not violate their patron’s First Amendment right, CIPA does not induce libraries to violate the constitution, and it is a valid exercise of Congress’ spending power.

To facilitate learning and cultural enrichment, public libraries must have broad discretion to decide what material to provide, heightened judicial scrutiny as incompatible with such broad discretion.

Thus, public forum principles do not apply here.

CIPA does not impose an unconstitutional condition on libraries that receive federal assistance by requiring them as a condition of that receipt to surrender their First Amendment right to provide access to constitutionally protected speech.

When the Government appropriates public funds to establish a program, it is entitled to broadly define that program’s limit.

The Government here is not denying a benefit to anyone but is simply insisting that public funds be spent for the purpose for which they are authorized.

As the use of filtering software helps to carry out these programs, it is a permissible condition.

CIPA’s filtering conditions do not distort the usual functioning of public libraries.

Public libraries have no rule that puts them against the Government and there is no assumption that they must be free of any condition that their benefactors might attach to the use of donated funds.

I have written a plurality opinion in which Justice O’Connor, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas have joined; Justice Kennedy and Justice Breyer each have filed opinions concurring in the judgment; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Souter has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg joined.