- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it’ll review a North Carolina state law that prohibits convicted sex offenders from using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Enacted in 2008, the law imposes penalties against individuals on the state’s sex-offender registry caught using “commercial social networking websites” where minors can sign-up as members.

Among those subject to the social media ban is Lester Packingham, a Durham resident who pleaded guilty in 2002 to taking indecent liberties with a 13-year-old when he was age 21. Ten years later he was convicted of violating the newly enacted law when a member of the Durham Police Department came across a Facebook post where Packingham celebrated a parking ticket being dismissed.

“Man God is Good!” he wrote.

A North Carolina appeals court called the social media restrictions too broad in 2013 and invalidated the law, but the state’s high court upheld the rule in Nov. 2015, calling it “constitutional in all respects” and insisting Packingham could still legally visit any website where users are required to be 18 years of age of older.

“[The law] is narrowly tailored to serve a substantial governmental interest, and leaves available ample alternative channels of communication. Defendant has failed to meet the high bar necessary to mount a successful facial challenge,” North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert Edmunds Jr. wrote last year.

Packingham filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the law in March 2016, and on Friday the high court said it’ll consider whether or not the restrictions are constitutional.

“The statute singles out a subclass of persons, who are subject to criminal punishment based on expressive, associational, and communicative activities at the heart of the First Amendment, without any requirement that their activity caused any harm or was intended to,” reads a portion of Packingham’s petition.

Oral arguments will likely occur early in 2017.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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