This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk David Brewster. David is a rising third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two opinions addressing separate free speech issues. While neither decision related specifically to local government regulations, both hold some important lessons for local government practice, as we outline below.
In Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court struck down a North Carolina law making it a felony for registered sex offenders “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” Gerard Packingham, having previously been convicted of “taking indecent liberties with a child,” was cited for violating the law when he posted a statement on his Facebook page about a “positive experience in traffic court.”
At trial, Packingham filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the charge violated his First Amendment free speech rights. The trial court denied Packingham’s motion, and he was subsequently convicted. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina struck down the law on First Amendment grounds, explaining that “the law is not narrowly tailored to serve the State’s legitimate interest in protecting minors from sexual abuse.” The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding the law constitutional “in all respects,” and explaining that the law was carefully tailored to prevent sex offenders from accessing “only those Web sites that allow them the opportunity to gather information about minors.”