WASHINGTON, D.C. — Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who led the Court majority that upheld online freedom of speech in the mid-1990s when Congress attempted to establish government censorship of “obscene” material, has died at 99.
Stevens, a World War II veteran appointed in by Republican President Gerald Ford, became recognized as an unlikely champion of liberal causes during his time in the Supreme Court (1975-2010). His opinions crucially shaped the direction of the internet.
In 1992, years before most Americans had thought of something like Amazon.com, or even having the internet at home, as anything but sci-fi, Stevens authored the opinion that online retailers should not be required to collect taxes on out-of-state sales, paving the way for the unstoppable growth of online commerce.
Then, in 1997, Stevens authored the opinion that resulted in the protection of sexually explicit material on the internet.
After Congress enacted a broad censorship law, prudishly named the Communications Decency Act (CDA), making it a federal crime to post “indecent” material on public websites that could be accessed by minors, Stevens wrote an opinion upholding the most basic principles of free speech.