Packingham v. North Carolina

Posted: January 1, 2017 by beguide in Criminal Procedure, Fantasy Supreme Court League, Free Speech, Uncategorized


WHAT HAPPENED:  North Carolina passed a law that made it a felony for sex offenders to access a banned list of websites.  Those websites included social media sites like Facebook and Youtube, but also news media sites like the New York Times.  The purpose behind the law was to prevent sex offenders from gaining access to minors through the internet via social media or comment sections.  The defendant, who was on the sex offender registry, was arrested after posting a celebratory message on Facebook following a victory in traffic court, which makes this a wild case of government revenge when you think very deeply about it.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  As you are likely aware, the government is not permitted to prevent your access to news or your ability to speak unless there are very compelling reasons to do so.  While protecting children from sex offenders is obviously a compelling reason, there is also the question of whether or not this law is properly tailored to that concern, meaning whether the law unduly harms or burdens speech outside of the stated goals.  In other words, whether it makes sense to ban access to the Wall Street Journal because you are concerned that sex offenders are going to access children in the comment section of an article about federal interest rates.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – While this case likely operates in its own little bubble (in that it really only affects the viability of sex offenders on the internet and government officials who want to police sex offenders on the internet), it poses an interesting question about free speech and government regulation.  The lower decision compared this case to U.S. v. O’Brien, in which the Supreme Court said that the government could punish you for burning your draft card because there were compelling reasons supporting the government’s action outside of preventing speech.  While this law doesn’t feel totally on point with that case, it also doesn’t fit squarely in any of the other exceptions to the First Amendment either, making this a case where the Court could either try to jam this into existing precedent or create something new altogether.

ROOT FOR PACKINGHAM IF:  you are a staunch opponent of government infringement on speech, OR a sex offender who likes looking at “damn Daniel” videos on YouTube.

ROOT FOR NORTH CAROLINA IF:  you are so terrified of sex offenders that you are willing to allow the government to make unilateral bans on news, speech and communication.

PREDICTION:  Packingham 6-2 on grounds that the registry of websites is too broad.


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