[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Tuesday filed a complaint [text, PDF] in federal court seeking to block a new Louisiana law [HB 55, R.S. §14:91.5 text, PDF] that limits Internet use for registered sex offenders [JURIST news archive]. The ACLU contends that the law infringes on the First Amendment [text] rights of individuals convicted of certain offenses, and is overly broad and vague in violation of First and Fourteenth Amendments [text]. The law bars offenders from “using or accessing” social networking sites, chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks. The ACLU maintains that the definitions of the restricted sites could be construed as including Reuters, usajobs.gov, and amazon.com, among many others. The ACLU further argues that the plaintiff on whose behalf the complaint was filed has “worked hard to reenter society” and that “his efforts to remain a productive, contributing member of society will be severely hampered” by the new law. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal [official website] said he would fight the lawsuit [press release]:
We will not comply with this request to allow convicted sex predators to use social networking sites. I will fight this with everything I have. If these people want to search the Internet for new victims they can do it somewhere else. This lawsuit is a disturbing break from reality, even for the ACLU. As Governor and the father of three young kids, I will fight the ACLU every step of the way and do everything I can to keep our kids safe from the monsters who want to harm them.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said that the law lacks procedural mechanisms [press release] for obtaining permission to use the restricted sites, and that “reasonable restrictions to prevent future crimes are appropriate in the interest of public safety.” The legislation took effect on August 15.
US courts have seen numerous constitutional challenges to laws placing restrictions on sex offenders. In May 2010, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] 7-2 in United States v. Comstock [Cornell LII backgrounder] that mentally ill sex offenders may be civilly committed beyond their prison sentences. The New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in May 2009 that local ordinances prohibiting convicted sex offenders from living near schools, playgrounds, and other public areas were preempted by the state’s Megan’s Law [text] and, therefore, invalid. Courts have invalidated similar laws in Indiana, Georgia and California [JURIST reports]. In March 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that a South Carolina law [SC Code §§ 23-3-600 et seq. text] requiring convicted first degree sex offenders to submit to a DNA test and pay $250 in processing fees prior to their release does not violate the ex post facto clause [text] of the Constitution. A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February 2009 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 (SORNA) [DOJ materials], which makes it a federal crime for a sex offender to attempt to move to another state while failing to register in a nationwide database, is unconstitutional.