Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Arizona's Revenge Porn Law Over First Amendment Concerns

from the going-after-bad-people-with-worse-laws dept

Arizona's revenge porn law is one (of many) hamfisted attempts to address a specific problem with an overbroad solution. Its supporters' zealousness to stamp out revenge porn left footprints all over the First Amendment, turning something as innocuous as an ill-advised retweet into a crime on par with domestic violence.

The law contains no exception for "newsworthy disclosures" and requires "explicit permission" for any posting of images, etc. of a "person in a state of nudity or engaged in specific sexual activities." While this law would have made revenge porn illegal, it also made plenty of protected speech a criminal act.

The ACLU challenged the legislation, providing a list of non-revenge-porn speech that would be considered criminal under the new law.
  • A college professor in Arizona, giving a lecture on the history of the Vietnam War, projects on a screen the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, "Napalm Girl," which shows a girl, unclothed, running in horror from her village.
  • A newspaper and magazine vendor in Arizona offering to sell a magazine which contains images of the abuse of unclothed prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
  • An educator in Arizona using images, taken from the Internet, of breast-feeding mothers, in an education program for pregnant women.
  • A library in Arizona providing computers with Internet access to its patrons and, because no filters could effectively prevent this result, the library patrons are able to access nude or sexual images.
  • A mother in Arizona sharing with her sister, in the privacy of her home, a nude image of her infant child.
  • A sexual assault victim in Arizona showing a photograph of the naked assaulter to her mother.
Fortunately, a federal judge has (for now) halted enforcement of this terrible law until it can be rewritten.
The order from U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton came as part of an agreement between the Arizona attorney general's office and the groups that sued. The order blocks enforcement of the law to allow the Legislature time to work on changes.
Those objecting to the law include not only expected civil liberties defenders like the ACLU, but also several bookstores, publishing associations and the National Press Photographers Association. The legislator behind the bill, J.D. Mesnard, says he'll work on it but can't promise he'll make opponents happy.
"Given my willingness to do that, it made sense to say, well let's see if we can get an agreement to hold off on the bill for now and make some changes in the next session," Mesnard said. "We may end up right back where we are now because some of the issues the ACLU brought up, I don't think they'll ever be satisfied."
In short, the Constitution will continue to be violated because the ACLU (and others) want too much free speech. This doesn't sound like someone willing to accept the fact that the law is badly and broadly written, but more like someone who thinks the ACLU's demands are impossible to satisfy. It also doesn't sound like someone who's interested in scrapping a law simply because the federal government has stepped in and basically declared it unconstitutional.

We can probably expect another showdown after Mesnard and his fellow legislators make a few token concessions. However, if it remains largely unchanged, Mesnard may find himself with no revenge porn law at all. The groups behind this legal challenge have vowed to seek a permanent injunction if there isn't a significant overhaul.

As has been pointed out before, revenge porn can often be tackled with existing laws. The process can be cumbersome, but the solution shouldn't be the crafting of broadly-written, unconstitutional legislation to address a specific issue -- legislation that will criminalize protected speech if allowed to proceed unchallenged.
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Filed Under: arizona, first amendment, free speech, j.d. mesnard, revenge porn
Companies: aclu


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2014 @ 10:21am

    * A mother in Arizona sharing with her sister, in the privacy of her home, a nude image of her infant child.
    Isn't this also illegal under the badly written "child pornography" statutes?

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