Filed at 1:38 a.m. EST
District Judge Leonie Brinkema said Monday that Loudoun County's libraries violated free expression rights by screening access to Internet sites on all public-use computers.
The county just west of Washington, D.C., installed filtering software to block access to Internet sites that contain certain words or phrases. It was an attempt to keep children from accessing sexually explicit sites on the World Wide Web.
The library system violated the First Amendment because the filters were not necessary to further any compelling government interest, were too broadly applied and had inadequate procedures to ensure prompt judicial review, the ruling said.
The judge cited alternatives such as using different terminals for children and adults or having a terminal with a switch allowing the filter to be easily turned off for use by an adult.
The library was sued last December by residents who claimed that using the software was a form of government censorship,. The American Civil Liberties Union also intervened on behalf of several sites blocked by the library.
"Any library censoring any material on the Internet will have to think very hard whether this is acceptable in light of this opinion," said Chris Hansen, senior staff attorney for the ACLU.
Ken Bass, an attorney for the library, said the judge left some room for libraries that want to restrict Internet access for children.
"What she found unconstitutional was primarily that it used the same standard for adults as for children," he said.
Bass said he would ask for a 15-day stay of the ruling to give library trustees time to decide whether to turn off the computers or the filter.
Here are other major court decisions pertaining to pornography on the Internet. This list is by no means complete: