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Painting a Bulls-Eye on the First Amendment

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Yesterday on CNN's morning show, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal continued his full-frontal jihad against Craigslist by proclaiming that Internet-based content doesn't have the same First Amendment protections as do print publications. He could not be more wrong.

Blumenthal, along with more than 40 other state AGs, has dogged Craigslist in an effort to get the online classified ad service to remove all adult services ads from its site. Blumenthal and others claim those ads on Craigslist are thinly veiled come-ons for prostitutes with the ads themselves being "absolutely raunchy," as Blumenthal told CNN yesterday during a live interview about his crusade against Craigslist.

When a CNN anchor pointed out that the Hartford Advocate, the home paper of the state capitol, also carried obvious ads for prostitution services and wanted to know if he was "aggressively" pursuing other publications like he was Craigslist, Blumenthal said (at 4:06 into the interview): "We're also looking at publications, but obviously there are First Amendment considerations there... so I think there are differences here" when we're going after Craigslist.

Blumenthal's assertion that online speech has lower First Amendment protection than speech in newspapers is shocking -- he clearly needs to brush up on First Amendment law. Back in 1996, in a case known as Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court reached exactly the opposite conclusion. The Court struck down the so-called Communications Decency Act and held that speech on the Internet merits the fullest protection under the First Amendment. Blumenthal is right that there would be constitutional implications raised by attacks on a newspaper, but those same constitutional problems are raised by his witch-hunt against Craigslist.

Moreover, beyond the clear constitutional protection that online speech merits, the U.S. Congress has extended even greater protections for online sites such as Craigslist. In a law known as "Section 230," Congress made crystal clear that states could not hold online sites liable for content posted to the site by users (and this clearly includes the ads posted to Craigslist).

This madness needs to stop. In the same interview Blumenthal admitted that he is "pursuing other Internet classified ad sites" (4:22) but he wasn't willing to name them. "We have them 'in our sights' so to speak," he said. Apparently, he's also painted a bulls-eye on the First Amendment and free speech.