Supreme Court justices heard arguments Monday on a case that started as a 2012 lawsuit in North Carolina involving the freedom to use social networking sites.
Lester Packingham Jr., a 36-year-old registered sex offender, was prosecuted and convicted of a felony for using Facebook, a social networking site he was banned from using as a sex offender. Packingham used the site to celebrate the dismissal of a traffic ticket and wrote “God is Good.” By doing so, Packingham violated a North Carolina law that bans sex offenders from using promotional social networking sites that are open to minors. Under this law sex offenders would be banned from using not just Facebook, but Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other popular sites many people use on a daily basis to interact.
A North Carolina Police officer found that Packingham was using the site under an alias. But Packingham’s lawyers argue that he was not using the site to interact with minors or in an appropriate way, the exact behavior the law aims to ban.
“There's never been any suggestion that he was up to anything but exercising his freedom of speech,” David Goldberg, a Stanford law professor representing Packingham told the Associated Press.
The Supreme Court is hearing the case to decide whether or not the law is too broad and is effectively a violation of the First Amendment, Packingham’s counsel argued that depending on how the law is interpreted it can go as far as restricting the use of websites with comments sections like The New York Times, or YouTube.
But the argument from the state is that the law really only blocks certain websites. "This North Carolina law keeps registered sex offenders off of social networking websites that kids use without denying the offenders access to the internet. It just keeps them off of certain web sites," said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, according to the AP.
Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana also laws that restrict the use of social media sites for sex offenders, while other states require that the offenders disclose their social media use and profile information.
During Monday’s arguments Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that ex-felons have their constitutional rights, like voting or the right to bear arms, revoked in some states after conviction, according to the transcript of the arguments.
The case was submitted Monday morning after an hour-long argument.
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