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Supreme Court declines to block Texas pornography restriction

The pornography industry challenged the state law’s age-verification provision, saying it places an unlawful burden on adults wishing to access content.
Detail shot of the Supreme Court

Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 16, 2022. The Supreme Court will decide whether a disabled activist can file disability rights lawsuits against hotels she doesn't intend to visit.
Patrick Semansky / AP file

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block on free speech grounds a provision of Texas law aimed at preventing minors from accessing pornographic content online.

The justices turned away a request made by the Free Speech Coalition, a pornography industry trade group, as well as several companies.

The challengers said the 2023 law violates the Constitution’s First Amendment by requiring anyone using the platforms in question, including adults, to submit personal information.

One provision of the law, known as H.B. 1181, mandates that platforms verify users’ ages by requiring them to submit information about their identities.

Although the law is aimed at limiting children’s access to sexually explicit content, the lawsuit focuses on how those measures also affect adults.

“Specifically, the act requires adults to comply with intrusive age verification measures that mandate the submission of personally identifying information over the internet in order to access websites containing sensitive and intimate content,” the challengers wrote in court papers.

In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in his own brief that the state law “simply requires the pornography industry that makes billions of dollars from peddling smut to take commercially reasonable steps to ensure that those who access the material are adults.”

A federal judge ruled that the provision at issue was problematic because it has a much broader impact than merely restricting access to minors.

But on appeal, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the state on a 2-1 vote and refused to put its decision on hold pending Supreme Court review.

In the aftermath of that decision, several online pornography platforms, including Pornhub, barred people in Texas from accessing their sites out of concern about the provision’s going into effect.