The law, passed in 2008, bans North Carolina sex offenders from using commercial social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the New York Times website.
Packingham v. North Carolina, the case being considered, originated in 2011 following the indictment of Lester Packingham for illegal social media use as a registered sex offender. The defendant argued that the statute was unconstitutional due to its violation of the First Amendment.
However, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the statute last November.
“The court says this is a content-neutral speech restriction, and therefore it’s permissible so long as it sufficiently serves an important government interest,” said Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law. “Here, the interest is in preventing sex offenders from finding out information about children, so that they could potentially contact them and essentially arrange to molest them.”
Glenn Gerding, the North Carolina appellate defender who represented Packingham, said the case raises concerns about free speech.
“The legal issue is whether the state can restrict a person’s access to the use of social media websites, and it’s an issue involving the First Amendment,” he said.
Bill Marshall, a professor at the UNC School of Law, said the court will look at other channels of communication available to sex offenders in place of social media.
“I think the case does open up a possibility that the court is going to look at social media in a way that it hasn’t before,” he said.