U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments Monday Over First Amendment And N.C. Sex Offenders

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday morning over the First Amendment rights of sex offenders in North Carolina. The justices will consider a North Carolina law that forbids offenders from accessing Facebook and other social media.

In 2002, Lester Packingham pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a child in Cabarrus County. In 2008, state lawmakers banned sex offenders from using social networking websites that minors frequent. Two years later, Packingham was arrested in Durham in relation to a Facebook post in which he praised God for the dismissal of a traffic ticket.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that law does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The state court noted that Packingham could still use other websites, and that the law furthered a governmental interest of protecting children.

Packingham’s attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that’s “an alarming departure from our legal tradition” and an “obvious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.” They’ll try to convince the justices to strike the law down. They say the ban also applies to amazon.com and nytimes.com, although the state disputes that.

North Carolina’s attorneys argue the ban does not burden speech any more than necessary to achieve its purpose. Attorneys general from 13 other states, including South Carolina, filed a brief in support of the law.