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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lesser Withour Presser

Those who cherish the First Amendment lost a valuable ally. Stefan Presser, a civil-liberties attorney who fought some significant Internet free-speech cases died on Friday, October 7th, 2005 of cancer at age 52.’s Declan McCullagh said:

From 1985 to 2004, Presser was the legal director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to challenge the Communications Decency Act nine years ago.

In remarks outside the courtroom in 1996, Presser said, "We had a couple of things we wanted to prove, and we're pretty confident we were successful. The first is how different communication is on the Net vs. communication via radio or TV (which must abide by "indecency" restrictions)."

He was right. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the law's criminal sanctions that punished the availability of "indecent" material online.

Although certain criminal provisions of the CDA remained, (which my attorneys referenced in an amicus curiae brief in the seminal Reno v. ACLU, and later challenged alone), the efforts of Stefan Presser were remarkable, and were not limited to freedom of expression. In an obituary in The New York Times, Fernanda Santos wrote:

Mr. Presser, who lived in Philadelphia, worked for 10 years to broker a 2001 settlement that led to systemic changes in the care provided to abused and neglected children in the city. Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights Inc., a Manhattan-based advocacy group, who worked with Mr. Presser closely on that effort, said, "Stefan was completely committed to his work, with every molecule of his body."

Last year, Mr. Presser successfully argued that a Pennsylvania law designed to block access to child pornography on the Internet also censored 1.5 million innocent Web sites. And in 2003, he forced the Transportation Security Administration to admit that it engaged in racial profiling when its agents detained a Florida physician of East Indian descent.

Committed and talented people like Mr. Presser are too few to begin with. The world is lesser for his loss.

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