The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday moved to buttress free speech rights in the digital age, striking down a North Carolina law banning convicted sex offenders from Facebook and other social media services that play a vital role in modern life.
Packingham sought to have the charges dismissed, arguing that the 2008 law infringes on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The case before the court focused on a sex offender prosecuted after posting on Facebook about beating a traffic ticket. Alito says the law's "staggering reach.makes it a felony for a registered sex offender simply to visit a vast array of websites, including many that appear to provide no realistic opportunity for communications that could facilitate the abuse of children".
"A fundamental First Amendment principle is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more", Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
Sponsored Content - Download our Executive Briefing to learn how agency and industry experts are hoping to reduce insider threats. "This language is bound to be interpreted by some to mean that the states are largely powerless to restrict even the most risky sexual predators from visiting any internet sires, including for example internet dating sites", Alito wrote for the three justices.
'This North Carolina law keeps registered sex offenders off of social networking websites that kids use without denying the offenders access to the internet. "Thanks JESUS!" That burst of online exultation violated North Carolina's ban on social media use, which covers all registered sex offenders, regardless of whether their crimes involved minors or the internet. Today (June 19), the justices unanimously held that states can't broadly limit access to social media because cyberspace "is one of the most important places to exchange views".
Lester Packingham Jr., a registered sex offender after having "indecent liberties" with a 13-year-old girl when he was 21, won the right to use Facebook, Twitter and similar sites following the ruling on Monday. Packingham had been sentenced to 10 to 12 months in prison, which the judge suspended, and ordered to register as a sex offender. He came across a post from Packingham, who used an alias but also included a photo of himself and linked to an account used by his father and namesake.
While the decision was unanimous, Justice Neil Gorsuch did not partake in the consideration or decision of this case, as he was not on the Court at the time it was argued. No fine, no court cost, no nothing spent. "Praise be to God" he wrote.