Question 6. What is the SPITCEROW (winner) of the case ACLU vs. RENO (1997)?


The foremost process of examination, SPITCEROW, is the short form of a sequence of key words in questions that one must inquire in order to realize a conflict and know what resolution methods to apply to the conflict.  It is a superior method of analysis if one enjoys a bit more time than urgent necessity because it forces us to acquire the context of the conflict acutely.  SPITCEROW will remind us to ask the following questions in analyzing a conflict so that we can commence to implement steps that will stop it from getting violent or becoming more violent:
1.      What are the SOURCES (or origins) of this conflict?
2.      Who are the PARTIES to this conflict?
3.      What are the ISSUES of this conflict?
4.      What are the TACTICS being used by the various parties?
5.      What, if anything, has CHANGED as the conflict developed over time?
6.      How did the conflict ENLARGE?
7.      What ROLES did other parties play and how did this affect the continuation of the conflict?
8.      What has been the OUTCOME of the conflict up to now?
9.     Who can be said to have been the WINNERS of the conflict up to now?
This is about as far as most academic courses will take one – the analysis of a conflict.  In the field we are not interested in the analysis as an end in itself but as a means to stopping violence from killing people around us so we will expand the SPITCEROW abbreviation with the following questions which will lead from the analysis to action in the field that will help to stop coming violence.

Facts of the Case:

Several litigants challenged the constitutionality of two provisions in the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Intended to protect minors from unsuitable internet material, the Act criminalized the intentional transmission of “obscene or indecent” messages as well as the transmission of information which depicts or describes “sexual or excretory activities or organs” in a manner deemed “offensive” by community standards. After being enjoined by a District Court from enforcing the above provisions, except for the one concerning obscenity and its inherent protection against child pornography, Attorney General Janet Reno appealed directly to the Supreme Court as provided for by the Act’s special review provisions. Question raised that “Did certain provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act violate the First and Fifth Amendments by being overly broad and vague in their definitions of the types of internet communications which they criminalized?”

On June 26, 1997, in the first Internet-related U.S. Supreme Court case ever to be decided, seven justices found the disputed provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Justice John Paul Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court, and was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, Scalia, Souter, and Thomas. Justice O’Connor filed a separate opinion, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, concurring in the decision but dissenting in part.

Striking a tremendous victory for the future of the First Amendment on the Internet, the Supreme Court ruled in Reno v. ACLU that the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, affirming a lower court decision. The CDA, Congresses first attempt to regulate the freedom of speech online, was passed in February 1996. In imposing content regulations throughout the Internet, much like broadcast television and radio, the CDA intended to threaten the very existence of the Internet as a means of free expression. In defeating this oppressive law, the ACLU has helped maintain the Internet as a free forum for ideas and commerce. The Following SPITCEROW (winner) of the case ACLU vs. RENO (1997):

  • The opinion was a ringing endorsement of the Internet as a “dramatic” and “unique” “marketplace of ideas.”
  • The Court determined that the World Wide Web is analogous to a library or a shopping mall, rejecting the government’s argument that it could be viewed as more akin to a broadcast medium.
  • The justices found that although sexually explicit material was “widely available” online, “users seldom encounter such content accidentally.”
  • In its First Amendment analysis, the Court explained that “the many ambiguities concerning the scope of [the CDA’s] coverage render it problematic for purposes of the First Amendment,” and declared that the Act “unquestionably silences some speakers whose messages would be entitled to constitutional protection.”
  • The Court found that the lower court in this case “was correct to conclude that the CDA effectively resembles the ban on ‘dial-a-porn'” invalidated in an earlier decision — Sable Communications of Cal., Inc. v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115 (1989).
  • Examining the issue of whether the rights of adults should be compromised in order to protect children, the justices declared that “in order to deny minors access to potentially harmful speech, the CDA effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another…[w]hile we have repeatedly recognized the governmental interest in protecting children from harmful materials,…that interest does not justify an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults.”

It would be concluded, yes. the Court held that the Act violated the First Amendment because its regulations amounted to a content-based blanket restriction of free speech. The Act failed to clearly define “indecent” communications, limit its restrictions to particular times or individuals (by showing that it would not impact on adults), provide supportive statements from an authority on the unique nature of internet communications, or conclusively demonstrate that the transmission of “offensive” material is devoid of any social value. The Court added that since the First Amendment distinguishes between “indecent” and “obscene” sexual expressions, protecting only the former, the Act could be saved from facial overbreadth challenges if it dropped the words “or indecent” from its text. The Court refused to address any Fifth Amendment issues.

For More information the following readings are suggested to the Student of the Course Code- 205 , LL.B (Hons) Part-II, Department of Law & Justice, Rajshahi University.

Reno v. ACLU (1997)

Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union

Reno v. ACLU, U.S. Supreme Court Case Summary & Oral Argument

Feature on Reno v. ACLU I

Reno v. ACLU

Reno v. ACLU

Communications Decency Act Struck Down!!

Reno v. ACLU – FindLaw

Reno v. ACLU

ACLU v. Reno case materials by Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

Analyzing Conflicts – PSYCHOSOCIAL MANUAL


A Disastrous Balancing Act: The Beginning of Cambodia’s Misery

[PDF] Latin American Development and Conflict Transformation1 [PDF] THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

[PDF] Conflict Resolution Techniques & Practice CONF 300, Spring 2006  ফাইলের ধরণ: PDF/Adobe Acrobat

Maria Dolores Rodriguez’s Page – Peace and Collaborative


[DOC] George Mason University

See also  Dr. Zulfiquar Ahmed, A Text Book on Cyber Law in Bangladesh, (Dhaka: National Law Book, 2009).


About drzulfiquar

Associate Professor, Department of Law & Justice, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh
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