Federal appeals court strikes New Mexico sex offender library ban
Federal appeals court strikes New Mexico sex offender library ban
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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that a policy in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, that bans registered sex offenders from entering the city’s public libraries is unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the policy violated the fundamental right to receive information under the First Amendment [text] of the Constitution and that denying access to public libraries to some is an infringement on this right. While the court held that the current policy is in violation of the Constitution, it noted that a less strict policy may be an option for the city, stating:

We note that our decision does not signal the death knell of the City’s efforts, if it wishes to pursue them, to restrict access of registered sex offenders to the City’s public libraries. … Like the Supreme Court, we “generally will not strike down a governmental action” for failure to leave open adequate alternative channels of communication “unless the government enactment will foreclose an entire medium of public expression across the landscape of a particular community or setting.

The appeals court affirmed the 2009 ruling of a US District Court judge in New Mexico who held that the city’s ban was too restrictive. The policy banning sex offenders from Albuquerque public libraries began in 2008 when the former mayor of the city ordered the city libraries [Reuters report] to inform registered sex offenders by letter that they were no longer allowed to use the facilities.

US courts have seen numerous constitutional challenges to laws placing restrictions on sex offenders. In August, the American Civil Liberties filed a complaint in federal court seeking to block a Louisiana law that limits Internet use for registered sex offenders [JURIST report]. In May 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that mentally ill sex offenders may be civilly committed [JURIST report] beyond their prison sentences. The New Jersey Supreme Court 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 and, therefore, invalid. In March 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a South Carolina law 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 of the Constitution [JURIST report]. A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled in February 2009 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 (SORNA), which makes it a federal crime for a sex offender to attempt to move to another state [JURIST report] while failing to register in a nationwide database, is unconstitutional.