SCOTUS slaps NC Supreme Court, unanimously strikes social media ban

By ROBIN VANDERWALL . . . In a broadly worded opinion penned by Justice Kennedy, a unanimous Supreme Court has closed the door on laws restricting access to the internet and social media forums by Americans who were convicted of a crime but who are no longer serving a criminal sentence.

In reversing the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision in Packingham v. North Carolina, the high Court admits wading into uncharted territory by explaining that the case “is one of the first [it] has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet,” but was guided to its decision by long held and fundamental approaches to First Amendment jurisprudence.

While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense) for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ . . . [and] the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.”

The Court made clear that states remain within the legitimate and permissible contours of First Amendment protections whenever they seek to restrict criminal conduct. “Specific criminal acts are not protected speech even if speech is the means for their commission.” Thus, laws targeting a sex offender (or anyone else) who engages in “conduct that often presages a sexual crime, like contacting a minor or using a website to gather information about a minor” will continue to be constitutionally enforceable.

Stating that North Carolina had not met its burden to demonstrate that a social media ban achieved its legitimate interests in protecting children from predators, the Court held that states “may not enact [a] complete bar to the exercise of First Amendment rights on websites integral to the fabric of our modern society and culture.”

The Court appeared particularly concerned about the application of restrictive laws to citizens who “are no longer subject to the supervision of the criminal justice system” and found it “unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences.” The specific question before the Court in Packingham provided no opportunity for the Court to resolve this tension, but it’s a prescient concern that Justice Kennedy was keen to observe which was embraced by at least four additional justices.

NARSOL was joined by its North Carolina affiliate, NCRSOL, and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) on an amicus brief filed in support of the petitioner, Lester Packingham.

6 thoughts on “SCOTUS slaps NC Supreme Court, unanimously strikes social media ban

  • June 21, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Well I hate to throw a wet blanket on this party but.

    We were all elated when the decision was handed down in Does v Cooper. Then Buck Newton led the charge to just draft and pass another law that was essentially the exact same law. The real problem as I see it was they used the language in Does v Cooper to craft the new law based on the opinions offered by the judges in an effort to make it fit the opinion of the court. Essentially bypassing or skirting the actual issue of the complete unconstitutionality of the NC SOR premise restrictions in general. If we win the latest suit moving through the courts in NC, what will stop another legislator from drafting another bill. They will draft legislation that fits or removes only the part of the law the judges find unconstitutional.

    Don’t get me wrong I am pleased with the SCOTUS decision only because it shows SCOTUS finally found an SOR law unconstitutional. Simply because it WAS OBVIOUSLY unconstitutional. This doesn’t mean that someone in the NC House will not simply draft another bill with similar and possibly even stronger language tailored to the courts and in line with what justice alito, roberts, and thomas stated.

    This is not a sprint it’s a marathon. At least in NC it appears we will be constantly fighting the decisions and rewrite of the exact same laws until somone IN THE NC HOUSE or their constituents say enough is enough.

    The fight needs to and must be waged in the courts. But the main battle ground is in the court of public opinion. Court decisions may be the beginning of changing the public perception of sex offenders. But I’m not going to hold my breath. Don’t get me wrong I would rather be legally protected than accepted.

    I am a child of the 50’s and I grew up in the deep south. When I was in elementary school, integration was met with what we first called token integration. I had two African-American kids in my entire elementary school. It wasn’t until I was in high school I saw real desegregation. That was in 1972. Brown v Board of Education was handed down in 1954.

    It wasn’t until America saw the firehoses and dogs in Alabama on TV that pubic opinion was changed on civil rights for most Americans.

    But! This was still a tremendous victory for SO’s in the courts.

  • June 20, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I’ve just noticed my last comment was removed, Someone must have thought my speech was inappropriate and that makes this site no different from North Carolina’s ban form FB. Free speech means Free speech even if you don’t agree with terms used or the person who used them.
    Tim L

    • June 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm

      Tim, it wasn’t removed. It never got posted. We’re just now getting around to moderating the comments. We apologize for the delay.

  • June 20, 2017 at 12:13 am

    This 9=0 decision implies the your states Highest court has no clue how to interpret laws in relation to constitutional protection. SCONC upheld the ban! So what gives? Either, Carolina judges have the skills to accurately interpret the laws in relation to the constitution or they do not?- I suggest the latter.

    We have the same problem here in Wisconsin, inept or unwilling judges. The willful abdication of the job they took solemn oaths to uphold. This is the actual state of this republic. Now we both know the powers that be just want to keep the cash train rolling, so they advance CRs and debt burdens onto our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

    I take the time to suggest to my twins that they may want to inquire about citizenship elsewhere in the world before they are wrongly felonized as I was! Being on FB is not that different from playing in the street! Kids were not permitted on FB when it began. Mine complained to me about it and signed up anyway! I would not choose FB myself since I am not interested in enriching another Harvard Jew. I find it funny that Zuckerberg is not far from suckerville given the vast amount of unsecured personal info the sheeple ( not my term) place upon that site. Some dumbasses even film and place vids of crimes on there for everyone to plainly see.

    God has a funny side!

  • June 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    wow just wow 8-0 was not expecting that at all.sounds like they will strike down retroactive laws if brought before them also. NC just got their buts whipped and I for one can’t wait for more of their retro active laws to be stricken down.

  • June 19, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    This is exciting news and a huge win for registered offenders, not just in NC, but nationwide.

    To my fellow North Carolinians: I contacted my local SORU and got as response a prepared statement that urges registered offenders to please wait to join any social network sites until the SBI can provide instructions to local SORUs on how to manage the influx of new social media accounts being created. While I doubt anyone is expected to wait until the state can create some new, more narrowly-scoped law, they probably want to have procedures and policies in place first. My local SORU said specifically that they will contact offenders in their jurisdiction with instructions once they have clarity on the situation.

    Congratulations to NARSOL, NCRSOL, all the lawyers involved, and Lester Packingham in particular, we owe you all a debt of gratitude and our moral and financial support as you continue to speak up for the rights of registered citizens nationwide!


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