We’re three for three in good legal news for the weekend.
A federal judge has struck down a Texas law requiring age verification and health warnings to view pornographic websites and blocked the state attorney general’s office from enforcing it.
In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra agreed with claims that House Bill 1181, which was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June, violates free speech rights and is overbroad and vague.
The state attorney general’s office, which is defending the law, immediately filed notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 4 by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry and a person identified as Jane Doe and described as an adult entertainer on various adult sites, including Pornhub.
Judge Ezra also said the law, which was to take effect Friday, raises privacy concerns because a permissible age verification is using a traceable government-issued identification and the government has access to and is not required to delete the data.
“People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access,” Ezra wrote. “By verifying information through government identification, the law will allow the government to peer into the most intimate and personal aspects of people’s lives.”
Ezra said Texas has a legitimate goal of protecting children from online sexual material, but noted other measures, including blocking and filtering software, exist.
“These methods are more effective and less restrictive in terms of protecting minors from adult content,” Ezra wrote.
The judge also found the law unconstitutionally compels speech by requiring adult sites to post health warnings they dispute — that pornography is addictive, impairs mental development and increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation and child sexual abuse images.
“The disclosures state scientific findings as a matter of fact, when in reality, they range from heavily contested to unsupported by the evidence,” Ezra wrote.
See here for the background. Looking at what I wrote then, the judge here basically agreed with me on both points, so yay me. The state is appealing, so once again I must note that The Fifth Circuit Will Do Whatever The Hell It Feels Like Doing, so celebrate responsibly. Also as noted by the story, plaintiffs have had mixed luck with similar laws around the country so far – the lawsuit against Louisiana is still pending and worth watching – so again, we’re a long way from being done with this. Unlike some of the other bad laws that got passed and are now being fought in the courts, I don’t see this one as likely to be repealed in the event of a statewide Dem takeover. It’s pretty much on the courts here. Bloomberg Law, TechCrunch, The Verge, and the Current have more.
UPDATE: A federal judge in Arkansas blocked that state’s social media age verification law shortly after Judge Hittner issued his ruling, also on First Amendment (and “this law is just crappily written”) grounds.