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Supreme Court declines to block Texas’ age verification rule for online porn

The justices’ order allows Texas to continue enforcing its anti-porn law requiring websites with adult content to verify a visitor's age.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down an emergency appeal from adult entertainment publishers asking the court to block Texas’ anti-porn law that the group claims is unconstitutional.

Texas enacted a new law requiring age verification for websites containing adult content. A group of porn producers asked the justices to bar the state from enforcing its law, arguing it would chill adults’ access to protected sexual expression.

Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, referred the application to the full court. Without giving an explanation for their decision, the court refused to block Texas’ law and there were no noted dissents.

The age restriction requirement forces adult content websites to verify a user’s age, asking them to submit a government-issued identification before gaining access to the website. Websites that refuse to comply with the law face a $250,000 fine.

Pornhub, one of the most popular websites in the world, suspended its services in Texas after the law was enacted. Texas has sued the website, seeking $1.6 million in fines.

Several other states include age verification requirements, but Texas’ law also requires sites to include advisories warning users that “pornography is biologically addictive” and “proven to harm human brain development.”

The Free Speech Coalition, an adult entertainment trade association, sued the state, claiming the law violates the First Amendment.

“Profound irreparable harm flows from the act’s chilling of adults’ access to protected sexual expression, especially now that Texas is pursuing enforcement proceedings,” the producers say in their emergency application filed by Derek Shaffer, an attorney with Quinn Emanuel.

A judge issued a preliminary injunction, preventing Texas from enforcing the law. The lower court found that the age-verification requirement violated adults’ access to protected speech. Although the law doesn’t allow websites to store users’ identification information, it also doesn’t prohibit the transmission of that information.

The court worried that online privacy breaches would discourage some adults from entering in their personal information, violating their First Amendment rights. The lower court issued a preliminary injunction to block the law.

A unanimous panel on the Fifth Circuit reversed, allowing the state to enforce its age verification requirement. The appeals court upheld the lower court injunction on the law’s health warnings, however.

Texas urged the Supreme Court to deny the porn producer's emergency appeal. The state said it was forced to respond to the “unprecedented explosion of access to hardcore pornography by kids.” Texas said its law is a modern-day solution to enforcing longstanding laws barring minors from accessing pornographic material.

“Texas has responded to that crisis by enacting House Bill 1181,” Aaron Nielson, Texas’ solicitor general, wrote in the state’s brief. “This statute does not prohibit the performance, production, or even sale of pornography but, more modestly, simply requires the pornography industry that make billions of dollars from peddling smut to take commercially reasonable steps to ensure that those who access the material are adults. There is nothing unconstitutional about it.”   

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Entertainment, First Amendment

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