Judge rules Texas law requiring age-verification measures for pornography sites unconstitutional

A judge for the U.S. District Court of Texas Austin Division has ruled against a new state law that would have required websites that publish sexual material to require age verification for access.

The Free Speech Coalition (FSC), an adult entertainment advocacy group, filed the lawsuit claiming the age verification requirement present in House Bill (HB) 1811 is “overbroad and fails strict scrutiny.” The lawsuit also calls the health warning requirement “ideological” and said it is being used to spread a “mix of falsehoods, discredited pseudo-science, and baseless accusations.”

The group, which represents websites like Pornhub, asked the court to deem the law “unconstitutional and unenforceable” in an effort to block its implementation.

The judge, David Alan Ezra, partially agreed, writing that “the state has a legitimate goal in protecting children from sexually explicit material online. But that goal, however crucial, does not negate this Court’s burden to ensure that the laws passed in its pursuit comport with established First Amendment doctrine.”

“There are viable and constitutional means to achieve Texas’s goal, and nothing in this order prevents the state from pursuing those means,” the order states.

Ezra’s reasoning for his decision states that the statutes on age verification are “not narrowly tailored and chills the speech of… adults who wish to access sexual materials.”

“Even if the Court were to adopt narrow constructions of the statute, it would overburden the protected speech of both sexual websites and their visitors,” the order explains.

“Courts have routinely struck down restrictions on sexual content as improperly tailored when they impermissibly restrict an adult's access to sexual materials in the name of protecting minors.”

According to the judge’s order, the First Amendment claims made by the plaintiffs are valid and the State of Texas and acting Attorney General Angela Colmenero will not be able to enforce the age verification law.

In a press statement, the bill’s author Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) said this development was “expected.”

“The pornographic industry has fought our effort to protect the innocence of Texas children. These groomers have made it clear that they want to sexualize our youth and Texas will not tolerate it,” Shaheen stated.

“We will prevail in our fight against these predatory extremists.”

Many of the hot-button social issue laws passed in the 88th Legislative Session are currently being challenged in court, with Texas’ laws against drag shows with minors in attendance and book vendors selling “sexually explicit” materials to public schools being temporarily blocked from taking effect. HB 1181 now joins that list of bills sure to see future interventions on their behalf from the Office of the Attorney General.

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