Media Coalition has a remarkable rate of success filing legal challenges in state and federal courts to laws that violate the First Amendment. We also submit amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and in lower courts in support of the First Amendment rights of producers and distributors.
Latest in litigation
Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana signed an order permanently barring the state from enforcing a 2015 law that required websites to age-verify every Internet user before providing access to non-obscene material that could be deemed harmful to any minor.
Media Coalition Foundation joined an amicus brief in the Eleventh Circuit. The brief urges the court to affirm a trial court’s decision granting Dr. Steven Novell’as motion for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s claims under the Lanham Act and state unfair competition laws.
Media Coalition Foundation joined an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold the lower court’s ruling striking down Idaho’s “ag-gag” law. The brief argues that the law is a content- and viewpoint-based restriction on protected speech and criminalizes important undercover investigative reporting.
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771 F.2d 323 (7th Cir. 1985), aff’g 598 F. Supp. 1316 (S.D. Ind. 1984), aff’d mem., 475 U.S. 1001 (1986)
The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed the 7th Circuit’s decision striking down as unconstitutional the Indianapolis ordinance that defined “pornography” as a form of sex discrimination. The ordinance allowed individuals to sue a producer or distributor of material containing depictions or descriptions of nudity or sexual activity.
533 F. Supp. 50 (N.D. Ga. 1981)
The U.S. District Court struck down Georgia’s law restricting the display of material with sexual content on its cover or in its contents as a violation of the First Amendment.
481 A.2d 919 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1984)
The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the state’s display statute.
868 F.2d 1199 (10th Cir. 1989), rev’g 649 F. Supp. 1009 (D.N.M. 1986)
The U.S. District Court ruled that New Mexico’s display statute is constitutional after limiting the statute’s definition of “harmful to minors.”
129 Cal. App. 3d 197 (Cal. Dist. Ct. App. 1982)
The California 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that an ordinance requiring that “harmful to minors” materials be shrink-wrapped is unconstitutional.
919 F.2d 1493 (11th Cir. 1990), rev’g 643 F. Supp. 1546 (N.D. Ga. 1986)
The 11th Circuit found that the Georgia “harmful to minors” law is constitutional but narrowed the scope of the law to limits on display only if the material is harmful to the oldest minors.
Civil Action No. 10-11165-RWZ (D. Mass. Oct. 26, 2010)
The U.S. District Court found that a Massachusetts law that criminalized any electronic distribution of “harmful to minors” material was likely unconstitutional.
342 F.3d 96 (2d Cir. 2003), aff’g in part, modifying in part 202 F. Supp. 2d 300 (D. Vt. 2002)
The 2nd Circuit ruled that Vermont’s “harmful to minors” law as applied to the Internet violates the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.
601 F.3d 622 (6th Cir. 2010), rev’g 512 F. Supp. 2d 1082 (S.D. Ohio 2007); questions certified to Ohio Supreme Court, 560 F.3d 443 (6th Cir. 2009), certified questions answered sub nom. Am. Booksellers Found. for Free Expression v. Cordray, 124 Ohio St. 3d 329, 2010-Ohio-149, 922 N.E.2d 192 (2010)
The 6th Circuit upheld Ohio’s “harmful to minors” Internet statute after the Ohio Supreme Court narrowed it so that it does not apply to websites, listservs or public chatrooms and is limited to “personally directed” communications. In the initial part of the lawsuit, the U.S. District Court struck down a provision in the law that included depictions or descriptions of violence to the definition of “harmful to minors.”
799 F. Supp. 2d 1078 (D. Alaska 2011)
The U.S. District Court struck down Alaska’s application of its “harmful to minors” law to electronically transmitted speech and the state’s “harmful to minors” law, declaring both an unconstitutional restriction on the free speech rights of adults.
No. CIV 00-0505 TUC ACM (D. Ariz. July 22, 2004)
The U.S. District Court ruled that Arizona’s “harmful to minors” statute as applied to the Internet is unconstitutional.
194 F.3d 1149 (10th Cir. 1999), aff’g 4 F. Supp. 2d 1029 (D.N.M. 1998)
The 10th Circuit ruled that New Mexico’s “harmful to minors” statute as applied to the Internet is unconstitutional.
969 F. Supp. 160 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)
The U.S. District Court struck down New York’s “harmful to minors” on the Internet statute as a violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
2:14cv2100 (D. Ariz. July 10, 2015)
The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona permanently ordered state prosecutors to halt enforcement of a law that criminalizes the distribution of a nude photo without the consent of the person depicted. The order approved a joint final settlement between the parties.
335 F. Supp. 2d 773 (E.D. Mich. 2004)
The U.S. District Court upheld Michigan’s law restricting the display of materials harmful to minors but clarified that the law only applies publications that have “harmful to minors” material on their covers or spines.
Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama, 1980
The Alabama Circuit Court struck down a Mobile County tax on magazines that depicted nudity.
565 F. Supp. 2d 981 (S.D. Ind. 2008)
The U.S. District Court ruled that an Indiana law imposing a license fee on retailers carrying any sexually explicit material was an unconstitutional tax on such material, content-based restriction and license on the retailer.
866 S.W.2d 520 (Tenn. 1993)
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the state’s display provision was constitutional but only for material found to be “borderline obscenity,” and that the “excessive violence” provision of the definition of “harmful to minors” was unconstitutional.
Civil No. 2: 05CV000485 (D. Utah May 15, 2012)
The State of Utah agreed to a stipulated order that limited the scope of the state’s Internet “harmful to minors” law so that it does not apply to the posting of “harmful to minors” content on generally accessible websites.
2016 WL 1734093 (M.D. La., Apr. 29, 2016)
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana permanently barred the state from enforcing a 2015 law that required websites to age-verify every Internet user before providing access to non-obscene material that could be deemed harmful to any minor.
131 F.3d 273 (2d Cir. 1997), vacating sub nom. Gen. Media Commc’ns v. Perry, 952 F. Supp. 1072 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)
The 2nd Circuit Court ruled that the Military Honor and Decency Act, a law that banned the sale or rental, at a military facility, of any material that “depicts or describes nudity … in a lascivious way” is constitutional.
2016 – Ongoing in the New York Court of Appeal.
582 S.W.2d 738 (Tenn. 1979)
The Tennessee Supreme Court rules that the state’s obscenity and display law is unconstitutional.
116 F. Supp. 2d 677 (W.D. Va. 2000)
The U.S. District Court denied an injunction against restrictions on posting Banned Books Week material in a high school.
303 F.3d 1163 (9th Cir. 2002), aff’g sub nom. PMG Int’l v. Cohen, 57 F. Supp. 2d 916 (N.D. Cal. 1999)
The 9th Circuit Court affirmed the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of the lawsuit arguing that the Military Honor and Decency Act is unconstitutional.
622 F.3d 1202 (9th Cir. 2010), rev’g sub nom. Powell’s Books v. Myers, 599 F. Supp. 2d 1226 (D. Or. 2008)
The 9th Circuit struck down the Oregon statute barring the dissemination of sexual material to minors that does not follow the test in Miller/Ginsberg.
362 F.3d 227 (4th Cir. 2004), aff’g 167 F. Supp. 2d 878 (W.D. Va. 2001)
The 4th Circuit found that a Virginia law amending the state’s existing “harmful to juveniles” law to impose restrictions on Internet content was invalid under both the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.
454 F. Supp. 2d 819 (E.D. Ark. 2004)
The U.S. District court struck down a provision in an Arkansas law that required retailers to segregate and use blinders for materials “harmful to minors.”
371 F. Supp. 2d 773 (D.S.C. 2005)
The U.S. District Court struck down a South Carolina law applying the state’s existing “harmful to minors” statute to the Internet.
No. 13-cv-01431 (D. Colo. June 11, 2013)
The U.S. District Court struck down a Colorado law restricting the display of magazines whose focus is marijuana or the marijuana business.
696 P.2d 780 (Colo. 1985)
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Colorado’s “harmful to minors law” is unconstitutional.
No. C88-1470D (W.D. Wash. Feb. 9, 1989)
The U.S. District Court struck down the City of Bellingham’s ordinance that provided a cause of action to allow individuals to sue publishers and retailers for producing material containing depictions or descriptions of nudity or sexual activity.
882 F. 2d 125 (4th Cir. 1989), aff’g in part and rev’g in part sub nom. Am. Booksellers Ass’n v. Strobel, 617 F. Supp. 699 (E.D. Va. 1985); vacated and remanded, 88 U.S. 905 (1988), certified questions answered, 372 S.E.2d 618 (Va. 1988), questions certified to Virginia Supreme Court, 484 U.S. 383 (1988)
The 4th Circuit upheld Virginia’s “harmful to minors” display law after the Virginia Supreme Court narrowed it to apply only to the display of materials that would be illegal for the oldest minors. Before remanding the case to the 4th Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the law absent the threat of prosecution.
19 N.Y.3d 1058 (N.Y. Ct. App. 2012), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 422 (2013)
The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for a writ of certiorari, concerning whether a state may discriminate in taxation among First Amendment-protected materials based on the perceived value of their content.
509 U.S. 544 (1993)
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that allowed the government to seize and destroy Ferris J. Alexander’s adult businesses under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act when he was convicted of selling seven obscene magazines and videos.
244 F.3d 572 (7th Cir. 2001), rev’g 115 F. Supp. 2d 943 (S.D. Ind. 2000)
The 7th Circuit ruled that an Indianapolis ordinance adding “graphic violence” to the definition of “harmful to minors” is unconstitutional.
534 F.3d 181 (3d Cir. 2008), aff’g sub nom. Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Gonzalez, 478 F. Supp. 2d 775 (E.D. Pa. 2007), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 1137 (2009)
The U.S. Supreme ruled in 2004 that the federal Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is overbroad and it was not the least restrictive means to prevent minors from accessing material harmful to minors. The Court remanded it to the U.S. District Court for fact-finding. The U.S. District Court struck down the law, which the 6th Circuit upheld. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case for a third time, leaving in place the decision that the law is unconstitutional.
118 F. Supp. 3d 1195 (D. Idaho 2015) sub nom. Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Otter (ongoing)
Media Coalition Foundation joined an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold the lower court’s ruling, striking down Idaho’s “ag-gag” law. The brief argues that the law is a content- and viewpoint-based restriction on protected speech and criminalizes important undercover investigative reporting.
535 U.S. 234 (2002), aff’g sub nom. Free Speech Coal. v. Reno, 198 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 1999)
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 that expanded the definition of child pornography to images do not include an actual child, such as visual media involving adults portraying minors, computer-generated images, drawings and sculptures. The Court held that child pornography is limited to depictions of actual minors.
472 U.S. 491 (1985)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s use of the word “lust” in its definition of “prurient interest” goes beyond the three-pronged test in Miller/Ginsberg and is unconstitutional.
131 S. Ct. 2729 (2011), aff’g sub nom. Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger, 556 F.3d 950 (9th Cir. 2009)
In striking down a California law that banned video games with violent content, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all violent content is fully protected by the First Amendment for both adults and minors. The landmark ruling also set precedent that video games have the same First Amendment protection as other media. The 9th Circuit had previously ruled that the law’s labeling requirement is unconstitutional compelled speech and a content-based requirement.
531 U.S. 278 (2001)
The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case without reaching a decision on the merits, concerning whether municipalities must provide prompt judicial determination or simply the right to file promptly for judicial review in adult businesses licensing cases.
541 U.S. 774 (2004)
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Littleton, Colorado ordinance that does not provide a prompt judicial determination for adult licensing decisions.
535 U.S. 425 (2002)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Los Angeles could use its 1977 study as the basis for an ordinance that did not allow two adult facilities in the same building.
475 U.S. 41 (1986)
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a city ordinance that prohibits adult motion picture theaters from being located within 1,000 feet from certain facilities, such as schools and churches.
827 F.2d 1483 (11th Cir. 1987), aff’g in part 642 F. Supp. 552 (M.D. Ala. 1986)
The 11th Circuit ruled that the threats made by the Montgomery, Alabama District Attorney intimidating wholesalers and retailers into withdrawing adult magazines was an unconstitutional prior restraint.
142 F. Supp. 2d 827 (E.D. Mich. 2001), remanded, 238 F.3d 420 (6th Cir. 2000), aff’g 55 F. Supp. 2d 737 (E.D. Mich. 1999)
The U.S. District Court ruled that Michigan’s “harmful to minors” law as applied to the Internet violates the First Amendment.
518 U.S. 727 (1996)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could only impose “obscenity” and “harmful to minors” standards on cable television, instead of the “indecency” standard.
469 F.3d 641 (7th Cir. 2006), aff’g 404 F. Supp. 2d 1051 (N.D. Ill. 2005)
The U.S. District Court ruled that an Illinois law banning the sale or rental of video games with violent content to minors is unconstitutional. The court also struck down the law’s provision banning the sale or rental of video games with sexually explicit content to minors, which the 7th Circuit upheld. (The state did not appeal the decision with regards to violent content in the 7th Circuit.)
519 F.3d 768 (8th Cir. 2008), aff’g sub nom. Entm’t Software Ass’n v. Hatch, 443 F. Supp. 2d 1065 (D. Minn. 2006)
The 8th Circuit struck down a Minnesota law that restricted the sale of rental of games rated “M” or “AO” for any content, including violence, to anyone under 17 and imposed a $25 fine on any minor purchasing or renting a restricted game.
489 U.S. 46 (1989)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the government may not use RICO laws to make a wholesale pre-trial seizure of books or magazines.
493 U.S. 215 (1990)
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a licensing provision for adult businesses in Dallas because it failed to provide the businesses with proper procedural protection.
329 F.3d 954 (8th Cir. 2003), rev’g 200 F. Supp. 2d 1126 (E.D. Mo. 2002)
The 8th Circuit ruled unconstitutional a St. Louis County ordinance that made it a crime to knowingly sell, rent, make available, or permit the “free play of” video games with violent content to or by minors without the consent of a parent or guardian.
418 U.S. 153 (1974)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a local jury was wrong in declaring the movie “Carnal Knowledge” obscene.
442 U.S. 319 (1979)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a generalized search and seizure of magazines and movies from the petitioner’s store without a particularized search warrant is unconstitutional.
132 P.3d 211 (Cal. 2006), aff’g in part 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 511 (Ct. App. 2004)
The California Supreme Court dismissed claims of sexual harassment against Warner Brothers. Media Coalition submitted an amicus brief highlighting the potential negative impact of a “creative necessity” test announced by the California Court of Appeals.
472 U.S. 463 (1985)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a detective entering an adult store, purchasing magazines, and then arresting the clerk for selling obscene material did not constitute an unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
458 U.S. 747 (1982)
The U.S. Supreme Court established that actual images of minors engaged in sex or lascivious nudity is a class of speech exempt from First Amendment protection.
610 F.2d 1353 (5th Cir. 1980)
The 5th Circuit ruled that harassment and arrests of retailers prior to a final adjudication on obscenity is an unconstitutional prior restraint.
35 Cal. Rptr. 2d 321 (Ct. App. 1994)
The California 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s privacy laws do not protect against prosecution for the distribution of obscene material.
481 U.S. 497 (1987)
The U.S. Supreme Court clarified the “value” prong of the Miller test by ruling that the literary, artistic, political or scientific value of an allegedly obscene work must be weighed by a standard broader than that of any particular community. The new standard is that of a “reasonable person.”
134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014), rev’g No. 11-3894/11-3925 (6th Cir. May 13, 2013)
The U.S. Supreme Court held that “a credible threat of enforcement” is a sufficient threat of injury to establish standing in a First Amendment case when bringing a “pre-enforcement” challenge. The Court cited the standard in the Media Coalition case Virginia v. American Booksellers Association of “a reasonable threat of prosecution” as an acceptable formulation of the “credible threat” standard.
44 P.3d 1044 (Colo. 2002)
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a search warrant seeking information about a book purchased by a Tattered Cover customer violated both the First Amendment and the Colorado Constitution.
142 F. Supp. 3d 1275 (S.D. Fla 2015) (ongoing)
Media Coalition Foundation joined an amicus brief in the Eleventh Circuit, urging the Court to affirm a trial court’s decision granting Dr. Steven Novella’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s claims under the Lanham Act and state unfair competition laws.
132 S. Ct. 2537 (2012)
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime for any person to falsely represent that he or she had been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces.
32 F.3d 733 (3d Cir. 1994), aff’g 776 F. Supp. 174 (M.D. Pa. 1991)
The 3rd Circuit ruled that non-nude depictions of minors can be prosecuted as child pornography.
965 F.2d 848 (10th Cir. 1992)
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Justice Department’s use of multi-jurisdictional prosecutions against Adam and Eve, a mail order business for sexually explicit materials, to force the company out of business was malicious.
529 U.S. 803 (2000)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the section of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 that required cable operators with channels with mostly sexually explicit programming to fully block audio or visual signals at a time when children may be watching is unconstitutional.
559 U.S. 460 (2010)
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1999 federal law that criminalized the creation, sale or possession of images of images of animal cruelty if the act depicted in the image is illegal either where the image was captured or where it was possessed or distributed.
553 U.S. 285 (2008)
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the pandering provision in the PROTECT Act.
780 F.2d 1389 (8th Cir. 1985), aff’g 602 F. Supp. 1361 (D. Minn. 1985)
The 8th Circuit ruled that a “harmful to minors” access statute is a permissible “time, place and manner” restriction on speech.
445 U.S. 308 (1980)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Texas public nuisance statute permitting prior restraint of allegedly obscene motion pictures without prompt judicial review is unconstitutional.
6 F. Supp. 2d 1292 (W.D. Okla. 1997)
The U.S. District Court ruled that the film “Tin Drum” is not child pornography and that its seizure by the Oklahoma City police was an unlawful prior restraint.
325 F. Supp. 2d 1180 (W.D. Wash. 2004)
The U.S. District Court struck down a law that prohibited the rental or sale to anyone under 17 of computer and video games containing depictions of violence against law enforcement officers.
433 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. 2006), rev’g en banc 145 F. Supp. 2d 1168 (N.D. Cal. 2001)
A French court held U.S.-based Yahoo!, Inc. liable under a broad French anti-hate law for content carried on its auction site in the United States, because the site is accessible to French citizens.
No. CIV-06-675-C (W.D. Okla. Oct. 11, 2006)
The U.S. District Court struck down an Oklahoma law that banned the sale of video games with “inappropriate violence” to minors by adding material containing “inappropriate violence” to the state’s “harmful to minors” law.
451 F. Supp. 2d 823 (M.D. La. 2006)
The U.S. District Court struck down a Louisiana law that added video games with violent content to the definition of “harmful to minors,” as well as video games with sexual content.
426 F. Supp. 2d 646 (E.D. Mich. 2006)
The U.S. District Court ruled that a Michigan law that added video games with “ultra-violent explicit” content to the definition of “harmful to minors” was unconstitutional.
639 F. Supp. 581 (D.C. 1986)
The U.S. District Court ordered the Meese Commission to withdraw its letter to corporations threatening to list them as distributors of pornography and barred any such list of retailers from being issued.
96 F. Supp. 3d 447 (M.D. Pa. 2015) (consolidated with Jamal v. Kane)
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania struck down a Pennsylvania law that allowed victims to stop conduct — including speech — by a convicted offender if it causes “mental anguish.”
521 U.S. 844 (1997), aff’g 929 F. Supp. 824 (E.D. Pa. 1996)
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that respectively sought to criminalize the “knowing” transmission to minors of messages that are “obscene or indecent” and “patently offensive.”