Federal obscenity statutes held to be constitutional

Third Circuit reverses dismissal of indictment against website operator.

The recent Third Circuit decision in the case of U.S. v. Extreme Associates is important to the law of the Internet, because from it we learn that the federal statutes which prohibit the distribution of obscene material – over the Internet or otherwise – are not unconstitutional. At least not yet.

Defendant Extreme Associates, the operator of an adult website, was indicted for distributing obscene material in violation of certain federal obscenity statutes (18 U.S.C. 1461 and 1465). The District Court, concluding that the Supreme Court’s pro-privacy decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) had seriously undermined the constitutionality of the statutes, dismissed the indictment.

On appeal, the Third Circuit concluded that the District Court overstepped its bounds by declaring the statutes unconstitutional, where the Supreme Court has not expressly declared the statutes unconstitutional. The Court reaffirmed this essential statement of the doctrine of stare decisis: “For district and appellate courts in our judicial system, [a Supreme Court decision] dictates the result in analogous cases unless and until the Supreme Court expressly overrules the substance of its decision.”

U.S. v. Extreme Associates, — F.3d —, 2005 WL 3312634 (3d Cir., December 8, 2005).

Detailed coverage of the constitutional issues in this article.