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Name: Packingham v. North Carolina
Case #: 15-1194
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/18/2017
Subsequent History: 137 S.Ct. 1730
Summary

North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking websites that the offender knows are used by minors, violates the First Amendment. Defendant was a registered sex offender who posted a statement on his Facebook profile about beating a traffic ticket. He was convicted of violating a North Carolina statute making it a felony for a sex registrant to access a commercial social networking site that he knows permits minors to become members or to create or maintain a personal web page (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-202.5(a), (e)). The Court of Appeals of North Carolina struck down the law on First Amendment grounds. The state supreme court reversed. Certiorari was granted. Held: Reversed. A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can listen and speak freely. Such forums include the Internet and social networking websites in particular. Even assuming the North Carolina statute is content neutral and thus subject to intermediate scrutiny, it cannot stand because it is not narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest. In addition, it substantially burdens more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. The broad wording of the statute bars access not only to commercial social networking sites, but also to websites as varied as Amazon.com. To foreclose access to social media altogether prevents the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. A state is not barred from enacting more specific, narrowly tailored laws to prohibit criminal acts, but “the Government may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech.”

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1194_08l1.pdf