SCOTUS to rule on social media ban for sex offenders

Lester Packingham Jr. celebrated his victory in a traffic ticket dispute by posting on his Facebook account. He wanted to share the good news with his friends and family.  In 2010 Packingham Jr. wrote: “No fine. No Court costs. No nothing. Praise to be God. Wow. Thanks, Jesus.” This seems like an average social media event, however Packingham Jr. was an anything but average facebook user. He is a registered sex offender in the state of North Carolina. A state law bans access by registered sex offenders to any “commercial social networking websites” that would allow minors to set up an account and subsequently converse with the charged individual. Packingham Jr. is therefore unable to use Facebook or Twitter or even some news websites. In 2002, he was indicted for having sex with an adolescent girl. Packingham’s sentence was later suspended but he was still required to register.

Following yesterday’s oral arguments, it has become apparent that the majority of SCOTUS judges are prepared to find the North Carolina law unconstitutional as it infringes on American’s First Amendment rights. Packingham has continued to appeal the case and yesterday’s arguments by the State of North Carolina were not received well by the Nation’s highest bench.

The state’s arguments are as follows:

  1. People’s rights are often infringed (even First Amendment rights) when it comes to certain types of criminal convictions. Sex offenders, for example, are not allowed within a certain distance of schools, or to own guns, in some states.
  2. The law does not infringe on First Amendment/free speech rights because there are plenty of other outlets where he can communicate and express himself.
  3. Sex offenders use social media sites to build up personal information about children and then target them, and the authorities do not have the resources to monitor all of that activity, so a blanket ban is the only viable solution.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.