The Supreme Court ruled on Monday against a North Carolina law that made it a felony for a registered sex offender to use social media sites that they knew allowed minors to participate. Court records showed that more than 1,000 people had been prosecuted under the law. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the state law was unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment.
Among those who faced penalties under the North Carolina statute was Lester Gerard Packingham, who had to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child, having had sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 21. Eight years later, Packingham was indicted under North Carolina’s social media ban after posting on his Facebook profile about getting a traffic ticket dismissed.
The Court said that the First Amendment exists so that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” and that the internet is a a key forum for exchanging views. The Court said that they “must exercise extreme caution” when addressing how the First Amendment and the internet are intertwined. The opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said that other, more narrowly tailored options could have been used, such as barring sex offenders from contacting minors or using social media to dig up information on them. Instead, North Carolina used far more sweeping legislation that blocks people from a common resource for current events and job seeking, among other things.
“Even convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, particularly if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives,” the Court said.