Bradburn v. North Central Regional Library Dist.
The Federal District Court certified the following question to the Washington Supreme Court (and boy is it a doozy):
Whether a public library, consistent with Article I, § 5 of the Washington Constitution, may filter Internet access for all patrons without disabling Web sites containing constitutionally-protected speech upon the request of an adult library patron.
So what does this mean? On the one end, you have a panoply of first amendment law, which, as I understand is voluminous, confusing, hard to wrap your head around, obtuse, and every other word which means hard to understand.
On the other, there’s the smell test that we need not have some 80-year old man without a sense of propriety jerkin the gherkin under the guise of internet “research”.
Case in point:
Now for those of you who know how courts work, you already know the outcome. Pragmatically, they have to allow the internet filters. The question then becomes, how do they justify it?
As to whether this was a prior restraint on speech, a plurality of the United States Supreme Court has already decided that filters in libraries do not count:
The plurality in A.L.A. termed it a mistake to extend “prior restraint to the context of public libraries’ collection decisions. A library’s decision to use filtering software is a collection decision, not a restraint on private speech.” A.L.A., 539 U.S. at 209 n.4. We similarly agree that NCRL’s filtering policy does not constitute a prior restraint within the meaning of article I, section 5.
. . .
Public libraries pursue the worthy missions of facilitating learning and cultural enrichment.” Id. at 203. A public library “provides Internet access . . . for the same reasons it offers other library resources: to facilitate research, learning, and recreational pursuits by furnishing materials of requisite and appropriate quality.” Id. at 206. “To fulfill their traditional missions, public libraries must have broad discretion to decide what material to provide to their patrons.” Id. at 204.
The discretion exercised, however, cannot be purely political or partisan.
The court then looked to Maintstream Laudon, a case that leaned towards no filtering as a removal of items from a collection, but determined that the later discretion given by the United States Supreme Court rendered much of Mainstream Laudon as outdated and bad law. A.L.A. considers the internet provided at a library no more than an electronic bookstack, which falls under the discretion of the library and its mission. Further, allowing all categories of internet would tie up scarce library resources, which could jam up the mission (for which a great exception exists):
Here, if a library patron wants to access a web site or page that has been blocked by FortiGuard, he or she may send an e-mail to NCRL administrators asking for a manual override of the block. The site or page is reviewed to ascertain whether allowing access would accord with NCRL’s mission, its policy, and CIPA requirements. If not, the request is denied. If the request is approved, access will be allowed on all of NCRL’s public access computers.
. . .
Because adults can request and obtain unblocking of erroneously blocked sites, we conclude that on this record no overbreadth problem exists under article I, section 5 as a result of overblocking.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room. “Why can’t the old man look at porn. Porn has been held to be protected reading material. Again, according to A.L.A., such restrictions in the context of library collections are okay, because libraries can decide what they put into their collections:
As the plurality in A.L.A. observed, “[m]ost libraries already exclude pornography from their print collections because they deem it inappropriate for inclusion.” A.L.A., 539 U.S. at 208. It makes “little sense” to treat libraries’ decisions to block access to “online pornography any differently, when these judgments are made for just the same reason.” Id.