The 5-4 decision said Congress went too far when it required cable TV systems to restrict sex-oriented networks to overnight hours if they do not fully scramble their signal for nonsubscribers.
``If television broadcasts can expose children to the real risk of harmful exposure to indecent materials, even in their own home and without parental consent, there is a problem the government can address,'' Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. ``It must do so, however, in a way consistent with First Amendment principles.
``Here the government has not met the burden the First Amendment imposes,'' Kennedy said.
The justices upheld a lower court's conclusion that less restrictive alternatives are available to address the issue.
The anti-smut law was enacted as part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act following complaints that even though sex-oriented channels are scrambled for nonsubscribers, the picture and sound sometimes get through.
The Playboy Entertainment Group challenged the law as a violation of the Constitution's First Amendment free-speech protection. The law restricts such programming even to households without children, Playboy's lawyers contended.