High Court refuses to hear Virginia professors’ challenge to Internet restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 8 declined to hear a free-speech challenge by six university professors to a Virginia law barring state employees from accessing sexually explicit material while using government-owned computers.

In the case, Urofsky v. Gilmore, the professors, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the law infringed upon their First Amendment rights and academic freedom.

The 1996 law requires professors and other state employees to get written permission from a supervisor in order to gain access to sexually explicit material online.

A federal judge sided with the professors in May 1998 and ruled that the law violated state employees constitutional right to freedom of expression.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, saying the law, intended to discourage state employees from viewing pornography at work, was consistent with the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court dismissed the case without comment, effectively letting stand the ruling by the Fourth Circuit upholding the law.

SPLC View: While this case only directly concerns the authority of employers to control the actions of their employees, one question sure to be raised by this and similar cases in the future is whether a school could also prohibit its students