ANA Urges Supreme Court to Strike Down CDA

February 20, 1997 12:00 am

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Washington, D.C. — The Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA) today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) as an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on fully protected speech. Dan Jaffe, Executive Vice President of ANA, stated that “the CDA not only threatens non-commercial speech of significant literary, artistic, and scientific value, but also seriously threatens advertising on the Internet.” ANA and The Media Institute filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief with the Court in the case of Reno v. ACLU, No. 96-511, a lawsuit which challenges the CDA on First Amendment grounds.

The CDA, which was intended to block the exposure of minors to indecent material on the Internet, was struck down last June by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The government has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in the case in the spring. ANA strongly opposed the CDA while it was pending in Congress and is part of a broad coalition of groups supporting this lawsuit.

ANA Executive Vice President Dan Jaffe stated: “The advertising community is very concerned about this case, for two reasons. First, the CDA’s overly broad and imprecise definition of “indecency” could potentially ban popular advertisements for underwear, jeans and other products. Second, and even more important, we categorically reject the argument of the government that simply asserting an interest in protecting children somehow diminishes First Amendment protections. In a number of areas, would-be regulators of speech routinely attempt to cloak censorship in the guise of protecting children.”

The ANA brief argues that the Constitution entrusts parents, not government, with the primary responsibility of supervising the exposure of children to various types of speech: “The proper role of government in this sensitive constitutional area is to support parents in their decision-making, not to supplant them by decreeing what children may see and hear.”

“For example,” the brief states, “government may encourage the development of technology or voluntary ratings that will give parents the tools to decide which, if any, materials they will allow their children to receive. Indeed, government must utilize these non-censorship alternatives before it constitutionally can restrict speech.”

Mr. Jaffe stated: “Children deserve special protection, but that legitimate goal can be best addressed through regulating conduct and empowering parents, rather than through a paternalistic regime of censorship. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the government cannot reduce the adult population to reading only what is fit for children.”

He concluded: “The CDA is well-intended, but it operates with a meat ax rather than a scalpel. One of the most exciting features of cyberspace is the substantial amount of control that parents already have over the images and messages that come into their home. In fact, current technology provides parents with more control here than in virtually every other area of life in supervising their children. We are confident that the Supreme Court will agree that parental-empowering technology, not a sweeping speech ban like the CDA, is the best way to protect children.”

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The Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA) is the industry’s oldest trade association and the only organization exclusively dedicated to serving the interests of corporations that advertise regionally and nationally. The Association’s membership is a cross-section of American industry, consisting of manufacturers, retailers and service providers. Representing more than 5,300 separate advertising entities, these member companies market a kaleidoscopic array of products and services to consumers and other businesses. ANA represents the needs of its members through advertising industry leadership, legislative leadership, information resources, professional development and industry-wide networking.

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