NewsHour: Decency Standards on the Internet – March 20, 1997

JIM LEHRER: Now today’s developments before the Supreme Court and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And joining us is the NewsHour’s regular court watcher, Stuart Taylor, correspondent for the "American Lawyer" and "Legal Times." Stuart, first of all, do you agree with what many observers at the court are saying, that this ruling, however it comes down, could be one of the landmark rulings of this term?

STUART TAYLOR, The American Lawyer: Yes, with a little hedge, certainly because of the vast importance of this new medium. And this is potentially the most important First Amendment case to come before the Supreme Court in I’d say more than 25 years just making new rules for a brand new situation. Whether the court will bring down the kind of ringing declaration that people recognize as a landmark opinion, whether they will produce a splintered thing where you have to sort of get out a chart to figure out how many votes are for which proposition remains to be seen. They may also want to move rather cautiously because you could tell in the argument today this isn’t just a matter of where we’ll take the older precedents and apply them to a new situation. They groping with the technology and with economic situations that are hard to understand, hard for them to understand, hard for a lot of people to understand, and are moving very fast. And I don’t think they want to sort of lay down some rules. They want to look like they were based on a factually inaccurate premise two years from now.

MARGARET WARNER: So we just heard the basic argument between these two partisans, but tell us about the arguments in court today; that is, taking the government first. Which of the arguments that we just heard did the government lawyers try to emphasize in arguing to uphold this law?