Supreme Court strikes down law restricting social media access

In an 8-0 decision, the court rules a North Carolina law that bans sex offenders from using social media is unconstitutional.

US-POLITICS-SUPREME COURT

The case was one of the first the court took up addressing the First Amendment and the internet. 

Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled a North Carolina law that bars convicted sex offenders from social media violates the First Amendment's free speech clause.

This is one of the first cases the Supreme Court has taken that looks at "the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern internet," the court wrote (PDF). 

"To foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court. "It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences. Even convicted criminals -- and in some instances especially convicted criminals -- might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives."

The law, enacted in North Carolina in 2008, made it a felony for registered sex offenders to access social media services like Facebook and Twitter where they might encounter minors.

The case involved Lester Packingham, a registered sex offender who posted on Facebook about a positive experience he had in traffic court. Packingham was convicted of violating the social media law in 2010.

The Supreme Court ruling Monday was 8-0. Newly minted justice Neil Gorsuch didn't take part in the decision. 

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