March 02, 2017
In Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court will decide whether the First Amendment bars a state from banning citizens from accessing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A North Carolina state makes it a felony for any person on the state's registry of former sex offenders to "access" a wide array of websites--including Facebook, YouTube, and nytimes.com--that enable communications among users if the site is known to allow minors to have accounts. The statute does not require the state to prove the defendant has actually had contact with a minor, intended to do so, or accessed a website for any illicit or improper purpose. Lester Packingham was convicted of violating the law for a Facebook post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring "God is Good!" Packingham and his supporters contend that law amounts to a sweeping, overbroad, and vague ban on protected speech untailored to any legitimate interest and unjustified by any compelling need.
- Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute