Justices Void NC Law On Sex Offenders, Social Media

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The Supreme Court today struck down a North Carolina law making it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” The court said the statute impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment. The appeal was brought by Lester Gerard Packingham, who as a 21-year-old college student had sex with a 13-year-old girl. He later was accused of violating the state law on social media when he contested a traffic ticket in court and wrote on his Facebook page, “Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? No fine, no court cost, no nothing spent. . . . . .Praise be to GOD, WOW!”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court that, “To foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences.” Justice Samuel Alito, writing for three justices who concurred in the case’s result but did not join Kennedy’s opinion, said that Kennedy “is unable to resist musings that seem to equate the entirety of the internet with public streets and parks … this language is bound to be interpreted by some to mean that the states are largely powerless to restrict even the most dangerous sexual predators from visiting any internet sites, including, for example, teenage dating sites and sites designed to permit minors to discuss personal problems with their peers.” New Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case, which was argued before he joined the court.

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