Supreme Court to hear challenge to social media ban for sex offenders

On Monday, the Supreme Court will weigh Packingham's challenge to a North Carolina law that bans registered sex offenders from visiting online social networking sites that could be frequented by minors.

"No fine. No Court costs". Packingham, who was required to register as a sex offender after he pleaded guilty to taking "indecent liberties" with a minor, ran afoul of the North Carolina law when he praised God on Facebook for the dismissal of his traffic tickets.

"The practical effect [of North Carolina's law] is to bar registered sex offenders not merely from the school, the playground, and even the town square, but from entire regions of the country where their fellow citizens are gathered for the goal of information exchange about any and all subjects of human inquiry", says a friend-of-the-court brief filed on Packingham's side by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Specifically before the Court is the question, whether under its First Amendment precedents, a law is constitutional that makes it a felony for individuals on the state's sex offender registry to "access" social media websites that enable communication, expression, and the exchange of information among their users, if the site also allows minors to create and maintain accounts. The social media company didn't even exist in 2002, when Packingham committed the acts that got him listed as a sex offender in the first place.

If there were any questions about the direction the case is headed, they appeared to be put to rest when Montgomery pointed to a 1992 case, Burson v. Freeman, in which the court upheld a 100-foot buffer zone barring political activity outside polling places as the basis for its argument that North Carolina's law should be upheld.

Packingham sent his celebratory post under the name "J.r. Gerrard", but Durham, North Carolina, police officer Brian Schnee recognized the account as Packingham's and obtained a warrant to search his residence.

"Sexual predators became increasingly adept at using social media to gather intimate information about minors' social lives, families, hobbies, hangouts, and the like", North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein's office argue in their brief.

Packingham had no other arrests during that time and police found no evidence of any other sexual offenses or that he had used Facebook to connect with young girls.

Goldberg said such rights were fundamental, "but they are different". "There's never been any suggestion that he was up to anything but exercising his freedom of speech".

Update: Per the Associated Press, five of the eight sitting justices signaled during oral arguments Monday that they were leaning toward striking down the North Carolina law, with Justice Ginsberg saying, "The law does not operate in some sleepy First Amendment quarter".

Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana also have laws restricting sex offenders' use of use of social media sites. "It just keeps them off of certain web sites".

"There's nothing that a sex offender can't say on the internet". It has been used to convict more than 1,000 people. His state, Nebraska and IN have had laws that federal courts ruled violated the free-speech rights of sex offenders.

It is pointless to ban social media, she said, because "the internet could be used for nearly any crime" such as preparing a bank robbery.

The court is expected to render a decision in this case by the end of June.

North Carolina appears to be the only state that now prohibits all registered sex offenders from social media sites.

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