Supreme Court declines to block enforcement of age-verification requirements for porn sites

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Texas to enforce age-verification requirements for porn sites, rejecting a request from the adult entertainment industry to block the law on First Amendment grounds.

Texas’ law requires any website that publishes a substantial amount of content that is “harmful to minors” to verify the age of users. The challengers said the law also forces adults to identify themselves before accessing pornography, which the group’s lawyers said violates access to free speech online.

A trade group representing the adult entertainment industry filed an appeal at the Supreme Court and then asked the court to block the law while that appeal is considered. The underlying appeal is still pending.

The Supreme Court offered no explanation for its decision Tuesday, common for decisions on its emergency docket. There were no noted dissents.

The emergency request followed a 2-1 decision last month from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals that cited Texas’ “legitimate interest in preventing minors’ access to pornography” and allowed the law to take effect.

The Supreme Court in 1997 unanimously invalidated provisions of a federal law intended to protect minors from indecent material online because it also imposed First Amendment burdens on adults. But in reviewing the Texas law, the 5th Circuit relied instead on a 1968 precedent in which the Supreme Court let stand a New York law barring the distribution of obscene material to minors.

“The record is replete with examples of the sort of damage that access to pornography does to children,” the appeals court wrote. “Because it is never obvious whether an internet user is an adult or a child, any attempt to identify the user will implicate adults in some way.”

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