Supreme Court strikes down sex offender social media ban

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that kept registered sex offenders from using social media sites, CNN reports.

This is one of the Supreme Court's few cases so far about the constitutionality of social media, and one of the few major decisions to say online access is a basic American right.

'This North Carolina law keeps registered sex offenders off of social networking websites that kids use without denying the offenders access to the internet. "Praise be to God" he wrote.

Kennedy said his opinion should not be interpreted to bar states from enacting more specific laws, such as laws banning sex offenders from contacting a minor or using a website to gather information about a minor.

He got a suspended sentence of 10-12 months and his name was placed on a registry of sex offenders.

In an opinion that was joined in full by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Anthony Kennedy began by outlining what he described as a "fundamental principle of the First Amendment": that everyone should "have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more".

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Louisiana is the only other state with a law similar to North Carolina's, although the Louisiana law applies only to people convicted of sex crimes with children, according to a legal brief the state filed with the Supreme Court.

The case was closely watched by civil rights organizations anxious to see how the court would decide a case about First Amendment protections online. "We now may be coming to the realization", Kennedy wrote, "that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions....a revolution in thought". But the US Supreme Court is now sorting out what that means for free-speech rights.

The suit in the nation's highest court goes back to a seemingly harmless event in April 2010, when a man named Lester Packingham learned that authorities had dropped court proceedings stemming from a traffic ticket he had been given. "It is cyberspace - the "vast democratic forums of the Internet" ... and social media in particular". "These websites can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard".

Alito - joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer - found that government can not ban speech "because the ideas themselves are offensive to some of their hearers" and the disparagement clause "cannot withstand even" the relaxed scrutiny the court has assigned to reviewing regulations of commercial speech.

The majority's language could leave the states "largely powerless to restrict even the most unsafe sexual predators from visiting any internet sites, including, for example, teenage dating sites and sites created to permit minors to discuss personal problems with the peers", Alito wrote.

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