Argument analysis: Justices skeptical about social media restrictions for sex offenders

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

Goldberg complained that the law bans "vast swaths of core First Amendment activity" that have nothing to do with the government's professed goal of preventing sex offenders from using social media sites to gather information that they can then use to target minors for sexual abuse.

The court's discussion about social media's role in political and religious discussion comes as it mulls overPackingham v.

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.

And quite frankly, if the President can be accused of sexual misconduct by 13 women and still use Twitter (sometimes I think there are, like, only a thousand of us who REMEMBER THAT), then I don't see why a convicted felon who has actually paid his debt to society should be barred from the service. The judges will have to decide if there's another forum that can accomplish the same type of communication. The state court noted that Packingham could still use other websites, and that the law furthered a governmental interest of protecting children. Kagan was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the law, but by the end of an hour of oral argument it seemed very possible that Ginsburg and at least three of Kagan's other colleagues would join her in striking down the North Carolina law. The majority said the law was primarily a restriction on conduct that imposed only an incidental burden on Packingham's First Amendment free speech right to express himself and receive information.

North Carolina has attempted even greater restrictions. The justices will consider a North Carolina law that forbids offenders from accessing Facebook and other social media. He was prosecuted, convicted of a felony and received a suspended prison sentence.

Packingham was off probation but still on the sex offender registry when he took to Facebook in April 2010 under an assumed name to celebrate the dismissal of a traffic ticket.

The case reaches the Supreme Court after it was upheld by North Carolina's highest court in a divided ruling. Packingham's post declared. "No fine, no court costs, no nothing spent. praise be to GOD, WOW!"


Packingham was originally convicted of indecent liberties with a minor in 2002 when he was 21.

The state contends its social media ban was adopted to stop sexual predators from "taking what is often the critical first step in the sexual assault of a child", meaning gathering information about potential young targets. "So, this has become a crucial, crucially important channel of political communication".

Montgomery said the law is restricted to websites that allow a user to go to another user's profile page, and then link to other users they do not know. The law was created to keep predators away from websites children may access.

But Goldberg ran into resistance from justices of all ideological stripes, some of whom suggested that perhaps the ban could survive if the court interpreted it narrowly-for example, as Justice Samuel Alito posited, by reading it as limited to "core social networking sites" like Facebook or Google Plus.

Defending the law, Montgomery faced tough questions from several justices.

Nationwide, an estimated 850,000 people are on sex offender registries. "They just can't say it on Facebook", said Clark.

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