EDITORIAL: California bill targeting Hollywood age discrimination an affront to the First Amendment

Ageism occurs in Hollywood. Talented actors and actresses lose out on roles on a regular basis because producers, directors and studios think they’re just too old.

But that’s no justification for ignoring the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, that’s not the position of the Screen Actors Guild and other Hollywood performer unions. In an effort to attack age discrimination, the guild now seeks to prevent certain websites from publishing accurate information.

As reason.com reports, the issue revolves around Assembly Bill 1687, a 2016 California law created “to ensure that information obtained on an internet website regarding an individual’s age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination.”

Per a report by Techdirt, the law’s origins can be traced to a failed lawsuit by actress Junie Hoang, who blamed her lack of starring roles on the fact that the Internet Movie Database — IMDb — listed her actual age. Ms. Hoang, who made less than $2,000 a year from acting, sought $1 million in damages.

Supporters of the law are going after IMDb because, in addition to the free content it provides, it also “offers a professional subscription service to actors, casting directors, make-up artists and other entertainment professionals,” Reason notes. The law targets sites that accept payment for services and demands that they not share age information with other sites. It also mandates that they honor any request from paid users to remove age data or face civil and criminal penalties.

Defenders argue that the statute is just a “contract-based nondisclosure rule,” Reason reports. But, in fact, IMDb attorneys correctly note that the law prevents the website from posting age and date of birth information that was acquired independently.

This is ridiculous. Yet California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has insisted on defending the law, arguing in a motion that the bill’s noble intentions override the First Amendment ramifications. Reason points out that Mr. Becerra also argued that IMDb “contends it has an absolute First Amendment right to disseminate the ages of everyone in Hollywood, consequences be damned, and no matter how much or little value such expression has in the marketplace of ideas.”

Well, yes. That the leading law enforcement official in the nation’s largest state would make such a case in a court filing is astounding. Even a first-year law student should recognize that the First Amendment prevents the state from determining what speech will be tolerated in the “marketplace of ideas.”

A federal judge has already enjoined California from enforcing the law while the matter works its way through the courts. But state censorship in the name of fighting discrimination is still censorship.

Mr. Becerra’s defense of the law is doomed to fail. Someone should make a movie about it.

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