CBS) Attorney General John Ashcroft denounced Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling that overturned a law banning computer simulations and other fool-the-eye depictions of teen-agers or children having sex, saying it would make prosecutions more difficult.
Where possible, he said, the Justice Department will restructure prosecutions it has brought to pursue "general obscenity charges against those who have victimized children."
Child pornographers "will find little refuge" in the decision, he said. "We will continue to use whatever resources we can to identify and prosecute child pornography cases to the fullest extent of the law."
Ashcroft also said that he was eager to work with Congress to revise the law.
Youthful sexuality is an old theme in art, from Shakespeare to Academy Award-winning movies, the court found in striking down the 1996 child pornography law on free speech grounds.
The law would call into question legitimate educational, scientific or artistic depictions of youthful sex, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for a 6-3 majority.
"The statute proscribes the visual depiction of an idea — that of teen-agers engaging in sexual activity — that is a fact of modern society and has been a theme in art and literature throughout the ages," Kennedy wrote in a decision joined by four other justices. Clarence Thomas, one of the court's most conservative justices, wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the outcome.
The court invalidated two provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act as overly broad and unconstitutional. Free speech advocates and pornographers had challenged the law's ban on material that "appears to be" a child in a sexually explicit situation or that is advertised to convey the impression that someone under 18 is involved.
Another section of the law was not challenged, and remains in force. It bans prurient computer alteration of innocent images of children, such as the grafting of a child's school picture onto a naked body.
CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports the adult entertainment industry, which led the challenge, hailed the decision as a victory for free speech.
"The creators of art who can now safely deal with the important topic of teenage sexuality without fear of the most severe possible government sanctions," said Jeffery Douglas of the Free Speech Coalition.
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer signed Kennedy's opinion. Thomas, in a separate concurring opinion, said the court's ruling appropriately strikes down a ban that was too sweeping but leaves a window for future regulation of some kinds of virtual child pornography.