Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
Michael Williams
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of Respondent)
Facts of the Case 

Michael Williams was convicted in federal district court of "pandering" (promoting) child pornography. The PROTECT Act proscribes the pandering of "any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe" that the material is illegal child pornography. The Act represents Congress's attempt to outlaw sexually explicit images of children - including both images of real children and computer-generated images of realistic virtual children. The Supreme Court struck down Congress's previous effort as overbroad in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Council, because the law as written could have outlawed artwork that was neither obscene nor child pornography. Williams argued that the PROTECT Act was similarly overbroad, but the district court held that the government can legitimately outlaw the pandering of material as child pornography, even if the material is not in fact child pornography.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court and struck down the PROTECT Act as unconstitutionally overbroad. The Eleventh Circuit was unmoved by the government's argument that prosecuting the promotion of virtual child pornography as real is necessary to combat the child porn market. The Circuit Court held that the Act's prohibition was broad enough to include any "braggart, exaggerator, or outright liar" who claims in a non-commercial context to have child pornography but actually does not. Thus, the Act's pandering provision prohibited protected speech as well as actual child pornography.


Does the PROTECT Act abridge First Amendment freedom of speech by outlawing the pandering of material that is believed to be, or claimed to be, illegal child pornography?

Decision: 7 votes for United States, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

No. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a seven-Justice majority, held that the statute was not overly broad as written. Justice Scalia noted specifically that offers to engage in illegal transactions are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection, and he characterized the speech of an individual claiming to be in possession of child pornography in this category of unprotected speech. He also stated that the law did not violate Due Process because its requirements were clear and could be understood by courts, juries and potential violators. Justice David Souter filed the only dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined.

Cite this Page
UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_06_694>.
UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_06_694 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_06_694.