N.C.'s Social Media Ban Ruled Constitutional

By Andrew M. Ballard

Nov. 6 — North Carolina may, consistently with the First Amendment, prohibit registered sex offenders from using social networking sites like Facebook, according to the state's highest court.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Nov. 6 that the state law at issue (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-202.5) is constitutional as it “is narrowly tailored to serve a substantial governmental interest, and leaves available ample alternative channels of communication.”

The law, which makes it a felony for any registered sex offender to use a commercial social networking site that permits children to join, is not only constitutional “on its face,” but as it was applied to the defendant in that matter at hand, Lester Gerard Packingham, who had a user profile page on Facebook.com, the state's high court said.

In so holding, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned an August 2013 opinion issued by the state appeals court that found the law “arbitrarily burdens” registered sex offenders by inhibiting a broad spectrum of free speech and expressive activity without achieving its goal of protecting children from contact with sexual predators .

Two of the six state high court judges considering the matter dissented from the majority, agreeing with the appeals court that the law was unconstitutional. The seventh justice, Judge Sam Ervin IV, did not participate in the consideration of the case or the high court's decision.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Ballard in Raleigh, N.C., at aballard@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com

Text of the ruling is available at http://src.bna.com/Yq