Court Rules Against Bill Restricting Online Distribution of Adult Material

Local independent booksellers and First Amendment protection groups are applauding a federal judge’s decision against criminalizing the sale of material that could be considered harmful to minors.   U.S. District court judge Ralph Beistline, in a decision last week, struck down specific provisions of an Alaska law which makes electronic distribution of indecent material to minors a crime.  Beistline said the law could have a chilling effect on protected speech, because there is no way sellers of online materials could know the age of those accessing their communications.

Beistline’s decision bars enforcement of that section of Senate bill 222.

The suit was filed last August, and in October of last year, the courts granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of certain parts of the statute. David Cheezum, co-owner of Fireside Books in Palmer, is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Cheezum says Thursday’s ruling is in line with the preliminary injunction. He said the Alaska law was not possible to comply with, because of its requirements.

Although judge Beistline said the state has a compelling interest to protect minors, he said the government “may not reduce the adult population to only what is fit for children.”  John McKay, an Anchorage attorney who worked on the suit, says the state statute had applied to both in store and electronic sales.

McKay says the state statue was aimed at guarding against online child predators.

Beistline said that if the state deems additional protections for minors necessary, the legislature can draw up a more narrow statue.

Before ruling on the case, the state requested that the federal court ask the Alaska Supreme Court to answer questions about the scope of the statute, but the Alaska Supreme Court declined to answer the questions.

Plaintiffs in the suit included the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, Title Wave Books and Bosco’s in Anchorage, and the Alaska Library Association.

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