Supreme Court jus­tices de­fend so­cial me­dia, even for sex of­fend­ers

N.C. law may vi­o­late First Amend­ment

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Richard Wolf @richard­j­wolf USA TO­DAY

“In­creas­ingly, this is the way peo­ple get ... all in­for­ma­tion. This is the way peo­ple struc­ture their civic com­mu­nity life.” Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan on the role of so­cial me­dia

The Supreme Court ar­gued Mon­day that so­cial net­work­ing web­sites have be­come such an im­por­tant source of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s daily tweets, that even sex of­fend­ers should not be barred from so­cial me­dia.

Dis­play­ing their fa­mil­iar­ity dur­ing oral ar­gu­ments with such plat­forms as Face­book, Snapchat and LinkedIn, sev­eral jus­tices said a North Carolina law that makes it a felony for sex of­fend­ers to ac­cess them ap­peared to vi­o­late the First Amend­ment.

It didn’t help state of­fi­cials that their case fo­cused on Lester Pack­ing­ham, whose sex crime in 2002 re­sulted in only two years of su­per­vised probation but who was ar­rested eight years later for cel­e­brat­ing the dis­missal of a park­ing ticket with a Face­book post that be­gan “Man God is Good!”

That ap­peared to go too far for at least five of the court’s eight jus­tices, who noted that so­cial net­work­ing sites have be­come a ma­jor part of “the mar­ket­place of ideas,” in Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg ’s words.

“In­creas­ingly, this is the way peo­ple get ... all in­for­ma­tion,” Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan said. “This is the way peo­ple struc­ture their civic com­mu­nity life.”

Although North Carolina’s law goes fur­ther than most states, a vic­tory for Pack­ing­ham would rep­re­sent a ring­ing de­fense of free speech rights for some of the na­tion’s most re­viled cit­i­zens — about 850,000 reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers.

The state’s se­nior deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, Robert Mont­gomery, likened the law to a Supreme Court de­ci­sion that for­bids pol­i­tick­ing within 100 yards of a polling place.

“Th­ese are some of the worst crim­i­nals, who have abused chil­dren and oth­ers,” he said.

Thirteen states de­fended the North Carolina law in le­gal pa­pers as a weapon against the il­licit use of so­cial net­work­ing sites, which they said are used in onethird of In­ter­net-re­lated sex crimes re­sult­ing in ar­rest.

“There’s a con­cern here for the safety of chil­dren,” Gins­burg ac­knowl­edged as some of her col­leagues — notably Chief Jus­tice John Roberts and Jus­tices An­thony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer — searched for a more lim­ited way in which states could pro­tect vic­tims with­out in­fring­ing on ba­sic free speech rights.

They found it dif­fi­cult to de­fend North Carolina’s law, passed in 2008 as a way to add “vir­tual” neigh­bor­hoods to the phys­i­cal lo­ca­tions — such as schools and play­grounds — from which sex of­fend­ers are barred.

Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor noted that Face­book, LinkedIn and other sites of­fer a range of ser­vices be­yond so­cial net­work­ing.

Ka­gan said the sites are an im­por­tant chan­nel for po­lit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and con­ver­sa­tion, in­clud­ing about the pres­i­dent’s pro­cliv­ity for tweet­ing news­wor­thy mus­ings.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.