Briefing the Supreme Court: Promoting Science of Myth

Melissa Hamilton has an excellent essay in the Emory Law Journal that is worth reading.

The Supreme Court recently decided, in Packingham v. North Carolina, whether North Carolina’s ban on the use of social networking websites by registered sex offenders is constitutional.  1 The principal legal issue in the case was whether the ban violates the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. The Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional for that reason.   

Yet another issue arose in the briefing and oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The litigants and certain amici curiae engaged in some debate about whether such a restriction is necessary in the first place. That is, various parties argued about whether the ban serves to protect the public from what North Carolina and the representatives of twelve other states in a collective amicus brief contend are high risk sex offenders who commonly use the internet to locate children for purposes of sexual exploitation.  3 In opposition, Packingham’s submissions, as the individual petitioner, and the amicus brief by a group of sex offender treatment professionals refute such allegations.  4 

This debate is important because it goes to the heart of the foundational basis of North Carolina’s justification for the ban. The Supreme Court has previously approved civil restrictions on sex offenders, such as public registries and residency restrictions, based on the belief that their recidivism risk is “frightening and high.”  5 Yet some experts point out that the scientific evidence is to the contrary.

Read the full essay in the Emory Law Journal.

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