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Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition

Citation. 535 U.S. 234, 122 S.Ct. 1389, 152 L.Ed.2d 403 (2002).
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Citation. 535 U.S. 234, 122 S.Ct. 1389, 152 L.Ed.2d 403 (2002).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the CPPA, arguing the act violated the First Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The CPPA prevents speech which is not obscene nor child pornography, and thus is overbroad and unconstitutional.


Congress passed the CPPA in 1996 which extended the federal prohibition against child pornography to sexually explicit images that appear to depict minors but were produced without using any real children. Violation of the CPPA carried severe penalties, including five to 30 years of jail time for repeat offenders. Plaintiff filed suit, arguing the CPPA was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.


Whether the CPPA is constitutional under the First Amendment.


No. The CPPA is not constitutional under the First Amendment.


Justice Thomas

In my view, Defendant’s most persuasive argument is that persons who possess and disseminate pornographic images of real children may escape conviction by claiming that the images are computer-generated, thereby raising reasonable doubt as to their guilt. Defendant is missing facts that support this argument.

If technological advances thwart prosecution of unlawful speech, the government may well have a compelling interest in barring or otherwise regulating the speech in the future.


The CPPA violates the right to free speech protected under the First Amendment because it is overbroad. The speech ban is not narrowly drawn. The object is to prohibit illegal conduct, but this restriction goes well beyond that interest by restricting the speech available to law-abiding adults. The mere tendency of speech to encourage unlawful acts is also not sufficient reason for banning it. Judgement affirmed.

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