Second Circuit Court of Appeals

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Commerce Clause:

American Libraries Association v. Pataki, 969 F. Supp. 160 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) - A New York statute criminalizing dissemination of pornographic materials by means of a "computer communication system" (N.Y. Penal Law, Article 235 (§ 235.21(3)) was held to violate the "dormant" Commerce Clause, and therefore to be unconstitutional. The following aspects of the case are particularly relevant to commercial email and spam:

  • The court determined that the geographically-dispersed nature of internet communication, including email communication, means that state laws governing the internet and email will necessarily have "inter-state effects," i.e. they will affect people and businesses in other states.
  • The court determined that the internet (including email) is a "conduit for the transport of goods and services" and therefore an "instrument" for commerce. As an instrument for geographically-dispersed commerce, the internet is an instrument for inter-state commerce, and this makes state laws aimed at regulating the internet subject to scrutiny under the Commerce Clause.
  • The court determined that the potential for enforcement of N.Y. Penal Law § 235.21(3) would threaten legitimate inter-state commerce (e.g. art and book sales), while securing relatively minimal benefits in protecting New York children from pedophiles. The court also determined that the statute necessarily has the effect of subjecting other states to New York's law, thus constituting an "extra-territorial" application of New York law. For both of these reasons, the court concluded that the statute violates the Commerce Clause.
  • The court determined that, as an instrument for geographically-dispersed commerce and communication, the internet "requires a cohesive national scheme of regulation." New York's statute violates the Commerce Clause because it contributes to a "welter of inconsistent laws, imposed by different states with different priorities."

This was the first case to apply dormant Commerce Clause analysis to state laws governing the internet, and it has therefore been an important precedent in more recent cases (e.g. State v. Heckel, 24 P.3d 404 (Wash. 2001)), where state laws governing commercial email and spam are at issue. See Spam-Related Case-Law: Washington Case-Law.