Begins Today in ACLU Challenge To New Mexico Internet Censorship Law
|ALBUQUERQUE -- June 22 - In a courtroom hearing opening today on a
challenge to a state Internet censorship law, a group of Internet users including an
artist, a gynecologist and a librarian will testify that their speech will be chilled by
the threat of criminal prosecution if the law goes into effect on July 1.
Saying that the law would reduce all speech on the Internet to a level suitable for a
six-year-old, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed suit in
April 1998 on behalf of 20 Internet users in New Mexico and around the country.
The law, signed by Gov. Gary Johnson on March 9, makes it a crime to disseminate online
expression that involves "nudity" or "sexual conduct." Penalties
include up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.
At the 9:00 a.m. start of today's trial, United States District Judge C. LeRoy Hansen of
the Federal District Court of New Mexico in Albuquerque is scheduled to hear the
government's motions to dismiss the ACLU's challenge.
If the government's motion is denied, the case will go forward and a hearing will begin on
the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction to stop the law taking effect. The ACLU
plans to present the live testimony of an expert witness and four individuals who fear
prosecution under the law. The ACLU has also submitted nine affidavits and 72 examples of
words and images that would be censored under the law.
"The ACLU is prepared to prove, as we have in every other court that has ruled on
cyber-censorship laws, that the First Amendment does not allow the government to pull the
plug on Internet free speech," said Ann Beeson, an ACLU National Staff Attorney and
member of the legal team appearing in court on Monday.
Beeson noted that the government will not be presenting any witnesses or experts to
support its case in court. The government has submitted a single affidavit arguing for a
narrow interpretation of the law as well some examples of ACLU client websites.
In addition, she said, the government had agreed not to argue a set of 50 separate facts
about the Internet established in the ACLU's successful Supreme Court challenge a nearly
identical federal Internet censorship law.
The ACLU witnesses are:
Rebecca Alzofon, a San Francisco artist who teaches life drawing online.
Carol Brey, Director, Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces.
Dr. Douglas Krell, a Santa-Fe based obstetrician/gynecologist.
Prof. Michael Norwood, Dir. of Computer & Technology Services at the Univ. of New
Barry Steinhardt, President, Electronic Frontier Foundation, based in San Francisco.
Prof. Norwood is testifying as an expert witness; the other four individuals represent the
plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.
Dr. Douglas Krell, the New Mexico representative of OBGYN.net, plans to testify that he
does not want to censor valuable speech about women's health available at OBGYN.net
website. The site is an online resource on women's health issues, that often includes
explicit discussions of sexual conduct and the female body.
Rebecca Alzofon, representing Art on the Net, a free online art gallery, uses nudity in
her art work and in the life drawing classes she teaches online. She plans to testify that
she fears prosecution because the law applies to all depictions of nudity or sexual
conduct, including artwork that she considers socially valuable for adults and minors
Beeson said that the ACLU did not plan to present a courtroom demonstration of the
Internet because Judge Hansen is known to be cyber-savvy. New Mexico's district court
became is the only federal court in the nation that allows attorneys to file documents by
In fact, Beeson said, under the New Mexico law, the ACLU could be prosecuted for sending
its court papers in this case via the Internet to Judge Hansen.
"It is sad that the state of New Mexico is now reduced to spending taxpayer dollars
to defend an indefensible law," said Jennie Lusk, Executive Director of the ACLU of
New Mexico. "The ACLU is bringing this lawsuit to preserve New Mexico's tradition of
free expression and appreciation for the arts and humanities."
If the case is dismissed on Monday, the ACLU is prepared to appeal to the 10th Circuit
Court of Appeals.
The 20 plaintiffs in the case are: ACLU, Mark Amerika of Alt-X, Art on the Net,
Feminist.com, Full Circle Books, OBGYN.net, Santa Fe Online, Sexual Health Institute, Stop
Prisoner Rape, Jeff Walsh of Oasis Magazine, American Booksellers Foundation for Free
Expression, Association of American Publishers, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom to
Read Foundation Inc., International Periodical Distributors Association, New Mexico
Library Association, Pen American Center, Periodical and Book Association of America,
Publishers Marketing Association, and Recording Industry Association of America.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are ACLU attorney Ann Beeson, Senior ACLU Staff
Attorney Chris Hansen, who will also argue the case in court, ACLU-New Mexico Co-Legal
Director Philip B. Davis, and Michael Bamberger of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in
New York. Attorney Cassidy Sehgal, an ACLU William F. Brennan First Amendment fellow, also
assisted in the case.
More information about ACLU v. Johnson can be found at:
ACLU's complaint at:
Links to plaintiff web sites at:
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