Supreme Court’s Decision on Controversial First Amendment Case

Audio/Story posted February 28, 2017 in CommRadio, News by Steph Krane

The United States Supreme Court suggested Monday that it might rule a North Carolina law banning registered sex offenders from social media a violation of the First Amendment.

During the Supreme Court hearing, Justice Elena Kagan argued that social media has become “a crucially important channel of political communication,” adding that President Trump and every governor and Congress member has a Twitter account.

Justice Anthony Kennedy added that social media has surpassed the public square as a place for community discussion and debate.

In 2010, Lester Packingham was convicted of having a Facebook account under a North Carolina law banning registered sex offenders from joining any social network that allows minors to sign up. Since sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow teens as young as thirteen to join, the law applies to some of the most popular sites on the Internet.

The 2008 North Carolina law in question makes it a felony for those on the state’s sex offender registry to use any online service that could lead to interaction with minors. The law excludes chat rooms and photo sharing sites, including Snapchat, the app popular among teenagers that allows users to send “disappearing” pictures to other users.

Before the case appeared in front of the Supreme Court, a North Carolina appeals court ruled that the law presented an “arbitrary burden” to all sex offenders. However, the appeals court ruling was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court under the reasoning that social media postings fall under the category of conduct rather than speech.

At the Supreme Court Monday, state lawyer Robert C. Montgomery presented the 1992 case Burson v. Freeman, which upheld the ruling that made it illegal to solicit votes or distribute campaign materials within one hundred feet of a polling place.

However, Justice Kennedy told Montgomery that presenting the case “does not help you at all,” and Justice Kagan said that the restriction on social media was more broad than the 1992 case and therefore a violation of First Amendment rights.

A decision on the case is expected in June. 

Hear what Penn State students had to say about the issue of sex offender’s access to social media in this Tuesday’s Commentary. 


Steph Krane is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. She can be reached at