Judge Cancels Trial  in Net Filtering Case

(October 3, 1998)  U. S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema cancelled an evidentiary hearing set for October 14 in the Loudoun Library filtering software lawsuit.   She stated that she would decide the case based on the cross Motions for Summary Judgment, and supporting pleadings and evidence, which have been filed with the Court.

See, summary of Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Public Libraries.  Case No. 97-2049.

Two large interests groups, People for the American Way (PFAW), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have sued the Loudoun County Library, nominally on behalf of local residents and blocked websites.  They claim that the use of X-STOP blocking software on the Libraries' computers violates the First Amendment rights of both library patrons and websites.

In a preliminary Opinion released on April 7, Judge Brinkema ruled that the constitutional standard of "strict scrutiny" would be applied to the Library's actions.   Since "strict scrutiny" is such a difficult standard to meet, Judges almost always hold state actions unconstitutional when this test is applied.

Moreover, at the oral argument on the pending cross Motions for Summary Judgment on Friday, September 25, Brinkema stated that she would not review her April 7 decision.   Hence, it appears likely that Brinkema is presently drafting an Opinion which finds that the Loudoun County Library policy and actions are unconstitutional.

Lawyers involved in the case are publicly reserved.  Ann Beeson, the lead ACLU attorney in the case, cautioned not to read too much into Brinkema's statement.   Elliot Mincberg, an attorney for PFAW, explained that since the hearing was less than two weeks away, "she did not want people to be running through the motions" of preparing their cases.  However, he added that, "I never want to predict, but we are very pleased with the Order."  He added that, "She made clear at the oral argument that she was not going to revisit the legal standards."

Judge Brinkema released the following statement on Friday, October 2:

"Having reviewed the voluminous pleadings and exhibits submitted in this case with great care and agreeing with the parties, all of whom have submitted motions for summary judgment, that the current record is sufficient to allow the court to decide summary judgment, the Court has determined that an evidentiary hearing is not required. The Court will decide the motions currently pending on the papers and issue a memorandum opinion within the next few weeks."

While Judge Brinkema may decide this case within a few weeks, final resolution of the constitutional issues involved is far from over.  First, whatever Judge Brinkema decides, this case is likely to be appealed.  Moreover, similar library cases will likely arise elsewhere.  Finally, Congress is poised to pass legislation that would require secondary schools and libraries receiving federal funds to install blocking software.   This is assured to generate further legal challenges from groups like the ACLU and PFAW.

Related Loudoun Library Stories
ACLU Requests to Intervene in Loudoun Case, 2/6/98.
Court Holds Hearing in Loudoun Case, 2/27/98.
Judge Strikes Down Law In Urofsky Case, 2/27/98.
Brinkema Rules on Motion to Dismiss, 4/8/98.
Plaintiffs File Motion in Loudoun Case, 9/6/98.
Loudoun Library Moves for Summary Judgment, 9/6/98.
Judge Hears Summary Judgment Arguments, 9/28/98.