Court of Appeals rules Texas revenge porn law violates the First Amendment

Court of Appeals rules Texas revenge porn law violates the First Amendment

The ruling blocks the 2015 Texas revenge porn law in the state’s northeast counties under the 12th Court of Appeals.

A state appeals court has blocked a 2015 Texas revenge porn law, ruling that the statute is overly broad and violates the First Amendment.

The state law had targeted what author state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, called “a very disturbing internet trend” of posting a previous partner’s nude or semi-nude photos to the web without the partner’s permission, often with identifying information attached. Inspired in part by the testimony of Hollie Toups, a Southeast woman whose intimate photos were posted online, the law made posting private, intimate photos a misdemeanor, carrying a charge of up to a year in jail as well as a $4,000 fine.

State legislators passed the Relationship Privacy Act in 2015, making revenge porn a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

This building on a dusty road in Tyler, Texas is home to the 12th Court of Appeals

 

The 12th Court of Appeals, based in Tyler, said the law is unconstitutional because its broad-based content restrictions infringe on people’s right of free speech. The First Amendment, wrote Chief Justice James T. Worthen, usually prohibits “content-based” restrictions.

“A statute likely is to be found overbroad if the criminal prohibition it creates is of ‘alarming breadth,'” the court ruled. “Such is the case with the current statute.”  The court found that the 2015 law was vague and infringed on the rights of third parties who might unwittingly share intimate images.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes over at Reason,

while ‘revenge porn’ is a legitimate problem that many people, especially young women, suddenly found themselves facing, the legislative responses to it were based more on its trendy cachet in media and policy circles. This sudden mass exposure created a demand—or, for ambitious attention-seekers in state legislatures, an opportunity—for government to Do Something. The resulting legislation criminalizing revenge porn often overlooked existing laws that already allowed ways to address such behavior in court, and they frequently encoded vague and overbroad prohibitions on sharing photos. Either redundant or unconstitutional, such measures were opposed by civil liberties groups and praised by local prosecutors.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office try to overturn the court’s ruling, with an appeal that could make it to the state’s highest criminal court, the Austin American-Statesman reported. For now, the ruling only blocks the law in more than a dozen Northeast Texas counties under the 12th Court of Appeals, though courts elsewhere in the state would likely consider its reasoning.

Dozens of other states have revenge porn laws, though they vary in scope and severity of punishment.

The ruling also directs a lower court to dismiss the charges Jordan Bartlett Jones, who was accused of posting an intimate photo of a woman without her consent. It was his case that put the law in front of the appeals court.

I never felt more satisfied or optimistic than when I rode the river in my youth.

One Reply to “Court of Appeals rules Texas revenge porn law violates the First Amendment”

  1. Karmafan

    Its easy for lawmakers to go after anything porn related, not so easy to go after other politicians lining their pockets or tax loopholes for the wealthy.

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