North Carolina officials argued that the social-media ban is necessarily preventative, applying to websites and apps accessible to users under the age of 18. Sex offenders are already banned from places where children might congregate physically—schools, parks, etc.—and the internet presents an extension of such laws.
But Packingham argued that the law unfairly prohibits conduct unrelated to its preventative function. He had no contact with children, and therefore any restriction of his communications is arbitrary, unconstitutional, and beyond the scope of punishment the crime calls for. He also argued that, social media has become such a key vehicle for communication that barring anyone outright from its use is equivalent to barring communication itself—which is not allowed under the First Amendment.
Currently, North Carolina is the only state in the U.S. with a law that bans registered sex offenders from using social media. Louisiana has a similar law, although it only blocks sex offenders convicted of crimes against children from social media.
While the case’s most immediate repercussion would be determining if North Carolina sex offenders can log back onto social media, the argument captures the increasing importance and power of social media.
A decision to strike down North Carolina’s law would mark the second time that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of greater rights on and more access to social media. In 2015, the court overturned a Philadelphia man’s conviction for making threats against his estranged wife on Facebook.
A decision from the Supreme Court regarding Packingham v. North Carolina is expected in June.