Packingham v. North Carolina

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: June 19, 2017
  • Case #: 15-1194
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, North Carolina’s law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to access commonplace social media websites is unconstitutionally invalid because it suppresses lawful speech as a mean to suppress unlawful speech.

Respondent passed a law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to access commercial social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Petitioner, a registered sex offender, had a parking ticket dismissed against him in state court. In response, Petitioner posted on Facebook under a pseudonym. A police officer saw the post and confirmed that it was Petitioner by checking court records and obtaining further evidence via a search warrant. Petitioner was indicted by a grand jury and the trial court denied Petitioner’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that the statute violated the First Amendment. Petitioner was subsequently convicted, but his prison sentence was suspended. Respondent never brought any allegation claiming that Petitioner had contacted a minor or performed any other illicit act while on the internet. Petitioner then appealed to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina which reversed determining that the statute violated the First Amendment and failed strict scrutiny review. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed finding the statute was “constitutional in all respects.” Petitioners then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which granted certiorari to decide "whether the law is permissible under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, applicable to the States under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." The Court determined that the statute was invalid. Using the precedent in Ashcroft, the Court reasoned that the law was overly broad in that it suppressed lawful speech as a means of suppressing unlawful speech.  REVERSED and REMANDED. 

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