The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a General Assembly statute that they said “impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment.”
In Packingham v. North Carolina, Lester Gerard Parkingham Jr., a registered sex offender in the state, was charged after Durham police found a Facebook page he created. He was convicted based on a post in which he celebrated the dismissal of a traffic ticket, declaring “God is Good!”
The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was about the constitutionality of the law that makes it a felony for all registered sex offenders to access such sites, including YouTube and nytimes.com. The answer was clear and unanimous.
“A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion. “The Court has sought to protect the right to speak in this spatial context.”
Kennedy acknowledges that in the past, there has been some difficulty determining the most important spaces in a spatial sense for the exchange of views, but notes that today that answer is clear: “It is cyberspace — the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ in general … and social media in particular.”
Kennedy points out that seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service.
“Social media offers ‘relatively unlimited, low-cost capacity for communication of all kinds,'” Kennedy wrote. “On Facebook, for example, users can debate religion and politics with their friends and neighbors or share vacation photos. On LinkedIn, users can look for work, advertise for employees, or review tips on entrepreneurship. And on Twitter, users can petition their elected representatives and otherwise engage with them in a direct manner. Indeed, Governors in all 50 States and almost every Member of Congress have set up accounts for this purpose. … In short, social media users employ these websites to engage in a wide array of protected First Amendment activity on topics ‘as diverse as human thought.'”
Kennedy wrote that “the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be.”
“This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet,” he added. “As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.” Read more