The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously overturned a law banning registered sex offenders from using social networking websites.
With the exception of Justice Neil Gorsuch, who did not participate in the case because he was not on the Court when it was argued, every justice agreed that the law's broad scope cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment.
The case was brought in North Carolina by Lester Packingham, who at the age of 21 had sex with a 13-year-old girl and was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor.
Eight years later, Packingham beat a traffic ticket and expressed his pleasure on Facebook: "Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent….Praise be to GOD, WOW! 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.
The Court's decision not only vindicates the First Amendment, but opens the door to skepticism about indiscriminate laws that are supposedly justified by the need to protect children from sexual predators.
In this case, as in many others, the law went that goal, criminalizing a wide range of innocent actions by people classified as sex offenders, most of whom pose no real threat to children.