Column: High Court Child Porn Ruling Erodes Free Speech

This story was written by Ashley Ames, Indiana Daily Student

Everyone knows grandparents love nothing more than showing off pictures of their grandchildren. And while grandparents are particularly fanatic about kiddy photos, who doesnt love to see a good naked-baby picture? In fact, I distinctly recall that throughout my childhood, Wal-Mart offered the adorable baby-bath-bucket photo shoot complete with rubber ducky so parents could commission professionals to take their babys naked pictures and have them printed in glossy mass quantities.Unfortunately, the safety and welfare of the much-loved naked-baby picture has been threatened in the Supreme Court this week. On Monday, the Court upheld a federal law intended to fight child pornography with a 7-2 vote. The law sets a five-year mandatory sentence for anyone promoting or pandering (offering to provide or asking for others to provide) child pornography.Possession, thankfully having already been illegal for quite some time now, is not included. Now critics question what exactly promoting consists of and point to possible hypotheticals in which previously law-abiding citizens could be arrested on a count of promoting child porn: Grandma e-mailing pictures of, say, grandchildren in cute pajamas entitled kids in bed, certain mainstream Hollywood movies depicting adolescent sex such as Titanic, and even some classic literature.The Court overturned the previous ruling by a Georgia appeals court that, citing examples like these, said the law was unconstitutional because it is too broad, and, in all actuality happens to be an infringement on free speech. This legislation clearly makes possession of innocent materials interpreted by someone else as inappropriate or simple discussion of something illegal against the law. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, defended the laws constitutionality saying that First Amendment protections do not apply to offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography. Interesting.While I certainly oppose and condemn both the people offering and the people asking for these repugnant materials, I did not realize the Constitution allows conditionals to be placed on the Bill of Rights for citizens who have yet to be convicted of breaking the law. Justice David Souter, in his dissent, maintained that freedom of speech requires us to be somewhat more lenient in our definitions of pandering or proposing.The government has repeatedly claimed the law was never intended to prosecute mainstream movies or grandparents. The legislation, however, makes no concrete designations, and violators are at the mercy of the interpretations of the prosecutor. Additionally, the law is rather futile because pandering and possessing often go together. In fact, Michael Williams, the defendant, was convicted both for promotion and pandering as well as possession and so clearly would have been prosecuted anyway.Williams was also going to serve both sentences consecutively and thus the new law had no real impact on his punishment. Its only real consequence is its infringement on free speech, as it will only increase the potential for the court to mislabel who was pandering, while doing virtually nothing to those who are clearly guilty.