A North Carolina law banning sex offenders from social media sites accessible by children is unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled.
Lester Gerard Packingham, a registered sex offender, was arrested under the law after posting on social media about defeating a traffic ticket. “No fine. No court costs. No nothing. Praise be to God. Wow. Thanks, Jesus,” he said in the post, according to the Associated Press.
Peckingham made an appeal, which argued that the state law from 2008 violated his First Amendment rights, according to the NY Daily News.
More than 1,000 people have been prosecuted under the law, according to figures cited in the case, The Verge reported.
In the court decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “A fundamental principal of the first amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.” Kennedy added that digital spaces, such as Facebook and Twitter, are protected.
Justice Samuel Alito concurred and wrote: “Like the court, I find it unnecessary to resolve this dispute because the law in question cannot satisfy the standard applicable to a content-neutral regulation of the place where speech may occur.”
This case garnered a lot of attention with civil rights groups and one of them, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in opposition to the North Carolina law.
The amicus brief argues that the banishment of registered sex offenders from social media in North Carolina, violates the First Amendment right to gather and publish information on the internet, according to the EFF.
Clarence Thomas, Alito and Roberts, three conservative leaning Supreme Court justices, warned against Kennedy’s “loose rhetoric” which could halt states from taking any measures to restrict convicted sex offenders on the internet.
For the three justices, Alito wrote: “The 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 internet dating sites.”
Packingham pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child in 2002. He was indicted for statutory rape of a child and then ordered to register as a sex offender, according to the AP.
Back in 2010, a police office from Durham was using his Facebook account to look for users who should not be on the social media site. He stumbled across Packingham’s post, which he used with an alias account, to post the message, according to the AP.
Packingham, however, did use a photo of himself and also linked to an account used by his father. The officer noticed that six other registered sex offenders were also present in the session, according to the AP.
Louisiana is the only other state with a similar law, according to the AP.