Judge Tosses Louisiana Online Bookseller Law

     BATON ROUGE (CN) – Louisiana’s attempt to make in-state booksellers and online publishers verify the age of every visitor to their Internet sites is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
     In his ruling, Chief Judge Brian Jackson of the Middle District of Louisiana said the state’s age verification requirement violates free speech.
     Jackson moved to bar the state from enforcing the statute, which could result in fines of up to $10,000 against anyone who falsely claims to be old enough to view online material, according to the lawsuit filed last November.
     In court documents, attorneys for the state argued they were not enforcing the rule anyway. But Judge Jackson said simply not enforcing a statute is not sufficient and that the plaintiffs “have adequately demonstrated that they face a substantial threat of irreparable harm if the Court does not issue a preliminary injunction.”
     The Supreme Court has made clear that the ‘”loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury,”‘ Jackson wrote, citing two earlier cases: Elrod v. Burns and Croft v. Governor of Texas.
     “The ‘irreparable injury’ stems from the intangible nature of the benefits flowing from the exercise of those rights and the fear that, if these rights are not jealously safeguarded, persons will be deterred, even if imperceptibly, from exercising those rights in the future,” he said.
     The American Civil Liberties Union and the Media Coalition filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Garden District Book Shop, Octavia Books, Future Crawfish Paper LLC, the American Booksellers Association, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
     In it they challenged the constitutionality of § 14:91.14, which, they argued, criminalizes the publication of “material harmful to minors” on the Internet by any person or entity in Louisiana.
     Additionally, if an underage child wants to browse a bookseller’s site to which she has been blocked access, according to the ACLU’s complaint, she merely has to find a site run by an out of state bookseller, since Louisiana cannot impose restriction of entities in other states.
     Jackson’s ruling blocks the state from enforcing the rule.
     Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney for the ACLU, called Jackson’s ruling a “victory” for free speech in an article published online.
     “Before Friday, a Louisiana bookstore might have feared prosecution for allowing a teenager to browse a book like “The Catcher in the Rye” on its website,” Bhandari wrote. “But no longer!”
     Bhandari said the ACLU hopes the state won’t appeal the decision.
     “It makes no sense — legal or otherwise — for bookstores, publishers, or any Louisianans to fear criminal prosecution for speaking freely on the internet,” she said.

%d bloggers like this: