Texas Porn Age Verification Law Blocked in First Amendment Win – Rolling Stone

texas anti porn law overturned


A Texas law designed to put strict controls on access to adult websites was blocked by a federal judge on Thursday, one day before it was to go into effect, in a decision that could prove a bellwether for similar legal challenges now playing out across the country.

Since the beginning of 2023, when the state of Louisiana began requiring age ID verification on websites deemed to contain a “substantial portion” of adult content, Texas, Utah, Montana, Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi have passed copycat legislation. Other states are currently weighing similar measures. The trend indicates a renewed effort by Republicans to limit overall access to pornography under the guise of protecting children.

But opponents of these bills, such as the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) — a trade association of the adult entertainment industry that filed the lawsuit over the Texas law, along with co-plaintiffs including Pornhub owner MindGeek — argue that they are unconstitutional insofar as they violate the First Amendment. Internet freedom advocates argue that their implementation entails enormous privacy risks, including the possibility that the government could monitor your consumption of adult content. States have also granted themselves wide latitude in how they define such material; these laws theoretically give them means to crack down on sites offering resources related to safe sex, abortion, gender-affirming care and LGBTQ communities.

In a last-minute ruling, Judge David A. Ezra of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas agreed with FSC’s list of objections to the state’s anti-porn law, H.B. 1181, which was to be enforced starting Sept. 1. His decision to block the law with a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit proceeds noted that H.B. 1181, aside from overstepping First Amendment protections for speech, was both less effective and more invasive than existing parental filters on internet-enabled devices. He likewise concurred that adult sites could not be compelled to display dubious “health” warnings about pornographic material, as the law required.

Mike Stabile, director of public affairs at FSC, tells Rolling Stone that Ezra’s ruling is an important victory in their state-by-state campaign against such anti-porn regulations. “Even though the age-verification law is only currently enjoined in Texas, the court’s opinion is hugely influential, and should put on notice legislators and legislatures in other states who have passed, or plan to pass similar legislation,” he says. “The court said in no uncertain terms that this scheme in Texas is ineffective and unconstitutional, and it rejected nearly every single argument the state made.”

“Unfortunately for the religious groups pushing this legislation, the copycat legislation in Louisiana, Utah, Virginia and other states suffers all the same inherent problems,” adds Stabile. “There’s been a lot of murmuring on the right that they’d finally found a way to censor adult content online. This ruling shows that their confidence was entirely misplaced, and is unlikely to survive a court challenge.”

The FSC has also filed suit against Louisiana for their age verification law, and plans to appeal a recent dismissal of their challenge to Utah’s. As these legal fights take their course, it’s become apparent that the legislation at issue hardly works as intended. A Virginia Mercury report this month found that most porn sites operated by companies outside the U.S. simply weren’t complying with that state’s new verification law. And sites that block entire states rather than institute ID checks, including Pornhub, remain available through virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow consumers to circumvent regional controls by masking their location. Searches for “VPN” have exploded wherever anti-porn laws have taken effect.

Between those logistical failures and the prospect of further court losses, it looks as if conservatives who want to censor porn may soon be headed back to the drawing board.

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Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/texas-porn-age-verification-law-blocked-first-amendment-1234816200/

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