NEW ORLEANS (AP) – An adult entertainment group’s lawsuit against a Louisiana law requiring sexually explicit websites to verify the ages of their viewers was dismissed Wednesday by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan in New Orleans ruled that the state officials named in the lawsuit — state public safety secretary James LeBlanc, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Attorney General Jeff Landry — cannot be sued because they don’t have a duty to enforce the act, which allows violators to be sued and face civil penalties.
Morgan said granting an injunction against the three state officials wouldn’t prevent people from suing content providers who fail to verify their viewers’ age.
Opponents of the law plan an appeal.
Similar laws have been passed and are being challenged in other states. In Texas, a federal judge recently struck down such a law. A challenge to a similar law in Utah has so far failed.
“As with Utah, the Louisiana ruling is fairly limited and only applies to whether we can bring a pre-enforcement challenge against the law, or whether we have to wait until a suit is brought. While we disagree and will appeal, it’s not at all a ruling on the merits of the law, which are still clearly unconstitutional,” Mike Stabile, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, said in an email. He later amended the statement to say an appeal is likely.
The law passed in 2022 subjects such websites to damage lawsuits and state civil penalties as high as $5,000 a day if they fail to verify that users are at least 18 years old by requiring the use of digitized, state-issued driver’s licenses or other methods.
Opponents say the law could chill free speech because the terms are so vague that providers wouldn’t be able to decipher “material harmful to minors.” They say the laws can, in effect, deny access to websites by adults who don’t have state-issued ID or are reluctant to use online verification methods because of the fear of having their information hacked.
In addition to the Free Speech Coalition, the Louisiana plaintiffs include three providers of sexually explicit content and a woman who lives in Louisiana but doesn’t have a state ID and does not want to lose access to adult sites.
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