SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Texas Age Verification Case

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court has officially granted a writ of certiorari for a legal case challenging whether a controversial Texas law requiring mandatory age verification for porn websites is constitutional

The case is Free Speech Coalition et al. v. Paxton. Adult industry trade group the Free Speech Coalition and a plaintiff class containing the parent companies of the largest adult tube websites in the world brought the lawsuit against the state of Texas and Attorney General Ken Paxton. At the center of the lawsuit is House Bill (HB) 1181. HB 1181 was adopted by the conservative controlled Texas state legislature and prompted a legal challenge from adult entertainment industry groups. 

Oral arguments for this case will occur during the next term of the Supreme Court, which begins in October. 

Plaintiffs alongside the Free Speech Coalition include Aylo, the Montreal-based owner of Pornhub, which has made international news for geo-blocking entire states, including Texas, for adopting age verification statutes. 

Other plaintiffs include Web Group Czech Republic and NKL Associates, the owners of XVideos and Xnxx, with other companies. The plaintiffs are represented by a team of attorneys from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP., Webb Daniel Friedlander, LLP., and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Paxton and his office are representing the state of Texas in his official capacity as state Attorney General.

AVN has covered this particular case extensively. Other lawsuits involving the Free Speech Coalition fighting age verification laws are progressing in federal courts across the country, as well. These lawsuits include an appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on Utah’s age verification bounty law, a filing in a federal district court in Montana, and the most recent legal victory against an age verification law in Indiana. 

The decision by SCOTUS to take up the Texas case follows its ruling Monday against content moderation laws in Florida and Texas being challenged by tech trade organization NetChoice. The high court's decision to vacate the appeals court rulings in both cases and send them back to lower courts for reconsideration was hailed by NetChoice Litigation Center director Chris Marchese as "a victory for First Amendment rights online."

UPDATE (10:27 a.m.): The Free Speech Coalition has released the following statement on SCOTUS granting its writ of certiorari:

Free Speech Coalition is pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to review our case, recognizing the importance of the issues raised by our Texas challenge. We appreciate the opportunity to make our case before the Court.

“Despite proponents’ claims, online age verification is simply not the same as flashing an ID at a check-out counter. The process is invasive and burdensome, with significant privacy risks for adult consumers,” said Alison Boden, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition. “Sexual expression is the canary in the coal mine of free speech, and we look forward to defending the rights of all Americans to access the internet privately and free from surveillance.”

The Texas law, HB 1181, blocks Texans from accessing any website with more than one-third sexual material inappropriate for minors unless they transmit their personal information, such as a government-issued ID, to verify their age.  In August 2023, US District Court Judge David Alan Ezra enjoined the Texas Attorney General from enforcing the law, but his decision was later reversed by a split panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, over Judge Higginbotham’s forceful dissent. In April, Free Speech Coalition and its co-plaintiffs, represented by ACLU and the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

This is a developing story.