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Cannon Aims to Strip Federal Courts of Obscenity Jurisdiction
By: Darklady (Courtesy of
Posted: 6/7/2006

WASHINGTON, DC — If Utah Representative Chris Cannon gets his way, the Supreme Court will never be faced with another state pornography case again. Not because states will stop pushing for obscenity related convictions – but because federal courts would no longer be allowed to hear the cases. Period.

HR 5528, also known as the Pornography Jurisdiction Act, was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 6th by Cannon and referred to the House Judiciary committee by routine action later in the day. The bill seeks to ban federal courts from having jurisdiction to hear or decide challenges to state laws that related to sexually explicit material. In other words, if the constitutional value of a lower court’s decision was questioned, the federal courts would not be allowed to address the issue.

The exact words relating to this issue within Cannon’s bill are said to be “No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question…”

According to Cannon, the move is necessary because “Federal courts have been creating a dangerous climate for our children by overturning important decisions by state courts to restrict pornography consumption and distribution within their borders." The legislator believes that his bill “simply lets states decide for themselves how they tackle this problem.”

Part of what has likely motivated Cannon is a challenge to his state’s Utah Child Protection Registry, which is currently pending in a federal district court. The Registry was set up to create a “no-email list” theoretically designed to shield children from receiving adult material.

Additionally, Cannon is unhappy about a 2002 decision by the U.S. Supreme court that removed restrictions on “virtual” child pornography; sexually explicit materials that feature adults who “appear to be minors.”

Regardless of his sincerity, the move, according to many, including Chicago’s Constitutional and First Amendment attorney Reed Lee, is a common maneuver doomed to fail and called “jurisdiction stripping.”

The problem for Cannon and his supporters, of course, as Lee explains it is that that “The United States Supreme Court and the state courts set up long ago that there are limits to state’s rights in the federal system. One of those limits is that on federal law issues, including what the United States constitution reads, the United States government, and particularly the judiciary, has the final word… and state judges shall be bound by oath to support that constitution as the supreme law of the land.”

Cannon’s attempt to do an end-run around the judiciary is not without company. A number of bills have been submitted by other lawmakers unhappy about the fact that federal courts have overturned lower court decisions. Several with similar language to Cannon’s are currently pending in Congress and address an assortment of emotionally charged social issues, including gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, the use of “In God We Trust” as a national motto, and government endorsed prayer.

Darklady is Assistant Editor at YNOT.

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